Health, safety and environment (HSE) is a major theme that is central to major industries, especially in the energy sector.
As such, we invited Safety Delta Nederland (SDN) Director Arjan van Dijk to discuss HSE challenges and opportunities in the petrochemicals industry, an industry that is largely interlinked with the energy sector.
Established in October 2020, SDN is a tripartite organisation composed of companies in the Dutch (petro) chemical industry, scientific institutions and the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management. It aims to make the Dutch (petro) chemical industry internationally recognized as a leader in the development and implementation of safety concepts related to managing hazardous substances.
Prior to being appointed as SDN Director, Arjan worked for Shell for almost 36 years in various roles, both in the Netherlands and abroad. During his time at Shell, he was involved in research, refining, start-up and operations in upstream oil & gas and in process safety.
Read his answers to key HSE questions below.
What do you think are businesses' major HSE challenges these days?
I see a few major HSE challenges that are prevalent now, but are not really new.
First big challenge I see is, and I call it, ‘ageing’. This is not necessarily just the ageing of installations but the ageing of knowledge as well. Installations that have been around for a long time require good management and maintenance. We knew how things worked and how it all went or how you did it correctly five or ten years ago. However, people retire and new people come in, then that’s how you lose knowledge. You can also look at the ageing of organisations and processes. Knowledge and organizations can also become obsolete, partly due to rapid digital developments. So, ageing of installations, knowledge and processes. That will go on forever.
Second challenge is digitisation and automation, and there will be more and more of that because standard tasks are not something human beings are good at, that's why we are using machines. And I think that is good --- you can have smart sensors, robots, etc. However, it could also lead to more safety incidents that could be a result of disturbances, lack of understanding of the complexity, cybersecurity and all that. So, on one hand you see more and more processes being automated because you save manpower and maintain consistency, but on the other hand, there are risks associated with it that have to be managed properly.
Third is the Energy Transition. We will work differently and there will be more electrification so there will be different risks being introduced. Energy sources will shift from fossil fuels to sustainable energy. As a result, existing installations may be overhauled and repurposed. And this also results in new risks.
Lastly, society. Society is becoming less tolerant to issues. People respond much faster to events supported by social media. Facts are no longer facts, and perceptions around health and safety can be amplified beyond proportion. How you communicate with society, or how transparent you can be, becomes a challenge.
What do you think are the stakeholder groups that must be involved in ensuring the industry is exercising the highest HSE standards?
To start, I would like to point out that it’s not about the highest standards, but to me it is how the industry is consistently implementing standards that manage the known HSE risks to levels as low as reasonably practicable.
And to answer the question, there are four highly relevant stakeholder groups in an industry: neighbours, authorities or regulators, the industry or businesses, and science.
Neighbours, or the people in close proximity to your business, must be involved one way or another. They may be concerned with their personal health and safety. They want to make sure that the area they live in is not negatively impacted by activities of the industry. They do not want smoke, smell or noise... And since they believe the industry only looks after its own businesses, they expect authorities to take care of their welfare. So, authorities must be the trusted entity by the neighbours. How can you really deal with them? You need to find a way to connect with them.
Second is authorities and regulators. On one hand, they issue licenses to operate to companies and on the other, they enforce regulations. They are a very important stakeholder because they have contacts with companies, politicians and society.
Third, industry, but I split it into two. One is individual companies and they have certain business objectives, when it comes to safety: nobody gets hurt, protecting the environment, no process safety events, etc. And to achieve those objectives, they also identify risks (both operational safety risks, workforce safety risks, business risks, etc.), put controls in place to manage those risks, and they will check if the controls are working. Then, you have the other group under industry: branch or trade organisations. These are associations of similar companies under one industry or trade or function. Membership to these associations means there are also expectations. These associations stimulate implementation of certain standards with their members to protect the reputation of the industry.
Last but not least, science. It is to me an independent source that can help in designing and verifying methodologies. Their independence through a fact-based, scientific approach is really important.
Facilitating close collaboration between the last three stakeholders is a key role for Safety Delta Nederland in the Dutch petrochemical sector.
What kind of support do businesses need or can take advantage of from relevant stakeholders such as government agencies, scientific institutions or international organisations?
There is an incredible amount of knowledge on managing HSE risks available. Lessons for protecting people and the environment have been learned since decades. And it is in the best interest of the industry to spread good information and manage risks in the industry as a whole, because one significant incident with one company could hit the reputation of all.
But how do you then, as an operator, know what is best for you? And I think that’s where support is important. Businesses, in particular the smaller ones, can take advantage of available knowledge on risk identification and management. Providing quicker access to information about managing HSE risks that are specifically relevant for a company or sector helps. Lessons learned from (near miss) incidents with others will help identify possible weaknesses in risk controls or HSE risks unknown to a company.
Self-assessments or industry peer reviews of risk controls facilitate even more the prevention of risks materialising or incidents happening. Regulatory inspections also help to sustain minimum risk controls.
So, with the wealth of knowledge businesses can get from other companies, regulators, the same industry in other countries, or international organisations, it is important that there is a way that they can filter this into something that they can use in their own business.
How can organisations like Safety Delta Nederland help businesses in improving HSE in their operations?
In Dutch, we say that the SDN is for “Vinden, Verbinden, Vernieuwen in Veiligheid” (“finding, connecting, innovating in safety”). It means we are here to find relevant information, connect practitioners in health and safety risk management, and innovate on risk management controls in order to improve process safety.
And I strongly believe that with the ambition of having zero significant incidents, there will always be a near miss. We need to learn from near miss events, with focus on system learning.
How organisations like SDN can help is on building trust between parties in order to share performance information. We have to build a space where people are really sharing best practices, including information from regulators who are visiting every installation. And the science part of it is when independent parties could confirm that “this really works” or “this is how you can manage safety” or “this is how you should measure it”, etc.
Finally, organisations like SDN can help with innovation, especially on topics that will make a difference for the sector and require collaboration and trust between parties to materialise. Examples are the application of new sensors, inspection and techniques, or the application of artificial intelligence to ‘big data’ in picking up weak signals about future unwanted events.
What is the role of technology and innovation in ensuring highest HSE standards in business operations?
Again, it’s not about “highest standards” but about having controls that are suitable and effective for managing all the HSE risks associated with an operation to as low as reasonably practicable. And of course overtime, you can work smarter and more efficiently, and that’s where innovation comes in. For instance, you can have smarter tools and equipment to detect corrosion without removing insulation or drones for inspecting at height. This comes together with smart ways of dealing with data, not just in a certain format generated in a certain way but all kinds of data.
I sense that in the Netherlands, there are plenty of companies that are open for innovation, but they have to be made aware that technologies are available, new solutions for the challenges they may have. I believe that smaller companies are much more open to experiment and try something new, since often powerful innovation technology is also associated with pragmatic and agile ways of working of these smaller companies. And in the end human beings, taking into account all the constraints they have, will decide on follow-up when improvement opportunities have been identified.
And I strongly believe that there are plenty of possibilities for technology and innovation that not only will further improve the HSE performance of companies and the industry, but also contribute to reliable and profitable operations.
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