Safety management during turnarounds at petrochemical plants

Everything must run like clockwork

Any mistakes made in the vicinity of the explosive and/or combustible gases and liquids typically found in refineries can put personnel and equipment at serious risk. This means that it is crucial for all personnel involved in turnarounds to have the best possible safety equipment and training. Based on its integrated safety concept, Dräger SRS offers a range of essential, efficient and above all tried-and-tested solutions.

Matty Zadnikar

Refineries and other petrochemical plants are the scene of hectic activity even during routine operation. All this pales into insignificance, however, compared to what happens when a petrochemical plant is shut down for the purposes of a turnaround: no sooner has the last barrel of crude oil been pumped through the system than turnaround specialists enter the scene. Action is taken on all pipelines, reactors, crackers etc. at the same time to check the plant and all its components and ensure that it is in good shape and ready for several more years of operation. The longer the intervals between shutdowns – whether scheduled or unscheduled (e.g. following an accident) – the more economical and competitive the petrochemical plant will be. Periods of up to three years of uninterrupted operation are by no means uncommon. And when the inevitable turnaround finally does come, every effort is made to make it as short and efficient as possible, as every hour of downtime costs the refinery’s operator a six-figure sum in lost sales.
The importance of supervision
Since every hour is crucial, the demands which are made during a turnaround can no longer be met by the refinery’s personnel alone. After all, workforces are kept as small as possible during normal operation for economic reasons, yet during a turnaround experts are needed to work on all kinds of different jobs at the same time. In a refinery like MiRO (Mineral Oil Refinery Oberrhein GmbH & Co. KG in Karlsruhe, Germany), this means that 1000 own employees are joined by another 3000 from partner companies, who rinse out, open, clean, service and if necessary replace every single one of the refinery’s components during the course of around 40 days before the plant can be returned to operation. All in all, this amounts to some 850,000 hours of work and an investment volume of approximately 47 million euros. As the staff of partner firms in particular are not always familiar with the specific technical safety needs of refineries, and because of the risk that something will be overlooked in haste, full monitoring of all the safety issues of the work is vital. This can only be achieved by recruiting additional personnel and providing the plant’s own staff with special safety know-how, as well as by accurate planning and coordination of the work.
Professional partner
Challenges of this magnitude can only be met with support from a truly professional partner. Through its subsidiary Safety & Rental Services (SRS), Dräger Safety has been able to position itself as a partner in the field of turnaround management. SRS offers its customers, such as operators of chemical and petrochemical plants, a full range of services and flexible system solutions. If involved early enough in the planning of turnaround measures, SRS can help ensure the highest possible safety standards during the work while achieving a high level of efficiency with regard to the deployment of personnel and materials. In concrete terms, this means that the SRS safety specialists enter the picture as soon as the customer has planned all the technical work involved in the plant turnaround.
The following are examples of issues that need to be considered:
  • How can the customer’s safety resources – personnel and materials – be best deployed to ensure that all the safety aspects of the work being carried out are fully and efficiently monitored?
  • To what extent is there a need for the SRS Training and Safety division to provide safety-related project coaching for firms and their staff involved in the turnaround?
  • How many additional safety specialists are needed to monitor all the safety aspects?
  • What is needed in the way of additional safety equipment to cover the increased demand during the turnaround?
On the basis of these extensive consulting services provided during planning and coordination of the safety aspects, the actual handling of the project then takes place during the turnaround itself.
Safety personnel
SRS provides all the necessary safety personnel with the appropriate qualifications and coordinates their deployment according to the actual needs of the turnaround. Staff are available seven days a week, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. To give the company the reactivity and flexibility it needs to deal with the personnel requirements during safety interruptions, which may vary from day to day or even from hour to hour, SRS has introduced a flexible personnel management system which permits the customer to determine only a matter of hours before the start of a shift how many employees are actually needed. The work of the safety specialists on site at the shutdown is supervised and controlled directly, allowing them to adapt to changing requirements at any time.
Safety equipment
Safety equipment and supporting logistics services such as maintenance and service are made available around the clock on demand, on a just-in-time basis. Access to the extensive rental pool of safety equipment increases the potential for cost-effectiveness during turnarounds and normal operation. SRS takes responsibility for providing sufficient quantities of modern and fully serviced safety equipment. The specialist staff in the company’s purchasing department ensure access to the very latest developments in safety technology, and continuously add to and adapt the range of rental equipment on offer to maintain the highest possible quality standards. A centralized, Europe-wide database helps dispatchers ensure smooth reservation and delivery of safety materials. What is more, the current location and condition of safety equipment can be verified easily at any time. Equipment is shipped out from a number of warehouses in Belgium, the Netherlands, Germany and France, each strategically sited close to the places where the equipment is needed. This infrastructure is complemented by Safety Shops installed at every site.
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