Do Safety Programs in Refineries Actually Work?

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We all want employees to be safe, especially during shutdowns and turnarounds. Many plants offer certain safety incentives in order to achieve this goal. But do they actually work? The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has warned companies on relying too heavily on these types of programs. So which actually work and which are fantasy? Each plant is different, so each answer will be unique to that particular culture and environment.

  1. Rewards Incentives

Some plants offer incentives to employees, if they work for a given period of time without injury. It sounds good on the surface, but can have unintended consequences. OSHA officially warned of these types of programs that offered incentives for not reporting injuries. In a communication titled Employer Safety Incentive and Disincentive Policies and Practices they stated, “If employees feel like they are penalilzed when they report injuries or illnesses, the employer’s entire workforce is put at risk.” For example, if an employee slips and falls on a hazardous floor but does not report it, others may slip and fall in the same spot. Furthermore, they cited that workers who don’t report injuries might not receive the proper medical care or benefits to which they are entitled.

Examples of rewards incentives include:

  • Entering all non-injured employees into a raffle
  • A team who went without injury was offered a prize
  • Providing tee shirts to workers serving on safety and health committees
  • Having a recognition party for the uninjured
  • Modest cash incentives
  1. Punishment Disincentive

The same communication cited employers who took disciplinary action against employees who DID report an injury on the job. OSHA listed it as a direct violation of section 11(c), employer’s may not punish an injury regardless of fault, and it is not a legitimate nondiscriminatory reason. Furthermore, this type of program can go against 29 C.F.R. 1904.35(b)(1), or the requirement that ensures employees have a guaranteed way to report work-related injuries and illnesses without repercussion.

The Hard Facts on Safety Programs

The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported the total recordable incident rate for the manufacturing sector as 3.9 job-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time employees. That means those of you with 1,000 workers may have approximately 40 injuries reported each year. The good news is 79% of these injuries were so minor, employees were able to return to work immediately. Other notable findings included:

  • Members of the American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers experienced a much lower instance of injury.
  • The total recordable incident rate for members of the AFMP was 0.5 job-related injuries and illnesses for every 100 full-time employees.

Goal Focused Safety

Some safety programs offer a one size fits all type of training. This is undesirable, given that each refinery is different. However, many safety program providers will make a custom, detailed safety plan and program for each refinery they visit. One such real life case involved safety professionals working with owners to compile a list of goals. They then set a budget for each goal, as well as designing a custom, online safety incentive program. Managers distributed these safety points to workers. Once a month, company announcements were sent to safety supervisors and meetings were held in regard to them. Once a quarter, account statements were sent to employee’s homes.

The end result was that the plant saved $6.50 for every $1 spent on the safety incentive program over the course of two years. The savings manifested as decreased injuries, reduced insurance premiums, less employee downtime due to injury, and an uptake in employee engagement.

Official Safety Programs

OSHA has safety standards that require companies to address 14 different process safety elements associated with equipment, utilities, instrumentation, human actions, contractors, incident investigations, and other external factors. They also have the authority to create mandatory engineering practices that are “accepted as good engineering practices.” In addition, certain private organizations also have their own safety standards. For example, the American Petroleum Institute has over 600 safety standards.

It can be difficult to make sense of it all, but there is one solid rule to look for in a safety program: Does it change and evolve with the industry, or does it remain the same from year to year? Our industry is constantly changing, and so do the best safety practices.

Remember that safety is the most important part of your refinery, as it impacts everything from profitability to employee morale. AMACS is a trusted contractor that specializes in separation and phase contacting process internals. Our team of experts is available 24/7! Please call or e-mail us with your requirements.