By: Scott McLaurin and Clayton Smith
Over the years, one thing that continuously strikes fear in the hearts of safety professionals and management alike is the safety challenge that comes with executing a turnaround. A turnaround of any scale will introduce a totally different dynamic into the workplace. Assuming the status-quo in safety will suffice during a turnaround is a misconception. Past experiences are often negative. In many cases, lessons learned from previous turnarounds are not properly addressed or, worse, they are completely ignored. Granted, many of the safety challenges accompanying a turnaround are unique. Increased headcount, increased vehicle traffic, increased crane activity, etc., all strain existing resources. A simple risk matrix indicates the potential for an increased level of risk: increased activity + increased personnel = increased risk.
Logistical issues aside, let us consider the human factors that come with a turnaround. Few operators enjoy the luxury of hand-selecting the contractor’s personnel. The contractor may be a known performer; they possess the desired capabilities, can provide the proper services, equipment, and expertise. However, the odds are they will have to increase their craftworker headcount to meet the scope of the owner’s turnaround in today’s Covid-19 environment. An increase in personnel adds a different dimension to the worksite dynamic, especially in terms of safety and personnel availability. With the industry’s current worker demographic, the contractor will be hard-pressed to find personnel with a long history in their craft. Even more frightening is the dwindling percentage of craftworkers who have a safe-work mindset. So, is safety success during a turnaround an impossible achievement? Absolutely not!
Turnarounds inherently involve a long period of pre-planning. It can take months, even years, in the planning stage to assess every detail associated with a turnaround of any scale. Materials, costs, personnel, logistics, and quality (among other factors) are all considered. Unfortunately, in many cases, safety issues are often poorly assessed, underestimated, or even neglected during the planning stage of a turnaround. Safety cannot be an “afterthought;” it should be a priority from early planning and remain embedded through completion of the event. One thing is certain: if you fail to manage safety properly, it will manage you!
Most owners have an established safety culture at their worksites, and many are quite mature and highly effective. With the introduction of a turnaround into a mature safety culture, one then would have to question why safety performance often suffers. If all the safety processes such as permit-to-work, job safety assessment/job hazard assessment, lockout/tagout, etc., are in place, why do we not realize the level of safety success we desire? I would propose that while the safety processes may have been adopted by the contractor workforce, it is likely that the safety culture has not. We must understand that safety processes and safety culture are different. Simply put, safety processes are how we work safely, while safety culture is why we work safely.
Let us consider approaching the safety culture concept as we would any other aspect of turnaround planning. If an owner places safety culture in a position of prominence in the early phase of planning, the contractor will consider it to be as much of an expectation as supplying manpower or materials. As with any other expectation, it must be established early and reinforced often. If you are starting to think this is indicative of safety leadership, you are correct. A key component of leadership is clearly establishing expectations that must be communicated effectively and reinforced properly. In the case of a turnaround, this means immersing the contractor in the safety culture of the worksite before actual hands-on work begins. That immersion begins with contractor management and is reinforced daily, even hourly, by frontline supervision. Once the workforce leaders have embraced the safety culture, the craft ranks will mirror the behaviors they see demonstrated by those leaders.
Sound simple? It is. Easy? It is, but only with effective leadership. Successful planning will yield successful results, and successful planning requires successful leadership.
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