Special Report: Better safe than sorry

A spate of recent, minor fire accidents at regional oil and gas facilities serves as a grim reminder that adequate clothing and safety equipment might have saved the day

HSE, Oil & Gas, Oil and gas, Safety standards, SPECIAL REPORTS

The past couple of months witnessed a number of fire accidents at petrochemical plants in Iran. Unconfirmed reports emerging from Iran’s tightly-controlled state media said a number of workers were injured in each of those incidents. But what is noteworthy is that the Islamic Republic’s oil minister, Bijan Zangeneh, said “a lack of HSE funding”, and the failure on the part of “some private companies” to provide adequate support for health and safety, was responsible for the fire outbreaks.

Iran’s sanctions-burdened oil and gas industry is certainly suffering from a huge shortage of international investments; demonstrated by the occurrence of three (reported) fire accidents in August and September alone. But what happened in the prosperous industry of Saudi Arabia recently has raised many an eyebrow.

On September 20, a fire erupted at the Ras Tanura oil terminal, operated by Saudi Aramco, injuring as many as eight workers (six contractor staff and two Aramco employees). The incident was an eye-opener for the wider industry and sent the message that, if the facilities and staff of Saudi Aramco, the world’s largest and richest oil company, can be affected by fire due to just a slight lapse in safety standards, no entity in the energy industry is safe.

There is dire need for the implementation of a comprehensive HSE policy in the regional industry, one that would begin with investing significantly in the most basic aspects – adequate clothing and proper equipment for the workforce.

One wonders whether the workers injured in any of the accidents highlighted were wearing appropriate protective gear, or had conducted a safety check of their operating facilities that day – routine measures that could have averted the mishaps.

At ADIPEC last year, I came across an exhibiting company – a small American firm that was proudly showcasing its range of shower fittings and eye- and face-wash lotions. Staring at their stall at the time, I wondered what the utility of such products might be. I realise now that those shower fittings are meant for installation in remote sites and help workers to thoroughly cleanse themselves, while the creams are actually anti-contaminant solutions that, when applied, help the skin stave off hazardous chemicals and gases.

As we are often reminded, it’s the simple things can make a world of difference in day-to-day operations.

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