The Slippery Slopes of Refinery Safety | RefinerLink

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The Slippery Slopes of Refinery Safety

By Steve Pagani

Oct 04, 2015

The activities that we take for granted often cause the most safety incidents.


While refineries are dangerous places with many catastrophic physical and chemical hazards, many lose sight of the simple activities that create the highest amount of incidents. It is not uncommon for refineries to list “Slips, Trips and Falls” as a high frequency incident categories, with outcomes that can lead to days away from work.


In fact, check out some of the industry statistics on STF’s.




 Statistics courtesy of EHS Safety News America

How can refineries boast such excessive amounts of safety slogans and jargon throughout the yard, but yet have such a difficult time asking employees to walk safely? What gives?


Do any of these events sound familiar:


  • Operator slipping on gravel walkway
  • Maintenance mechanic tripping on air hose in pump row
  • Finance analyst tripping over open file drawer
  • Inspector slipping on cargo vessel gangway
  • Admin assistant falling down the stairs
  • Process Engineer falling down ladder cage


STFs can happen to anyone and do not discriminate between indoor vs outdoor activity, field worker vs office worker, or even hourly vs salaried employee. The fact of the matter is that it WILL happen to someone in the refinery.


The question is how can we reduce, and ultimately prevent Slip, Trip and Fall incidents? Incident prevention first comes with risk recognition. All employers and employees need to recognize incident priming conditions, such as:


  • Uneven walking surfaces
  • Damaged stepping surface
  • Stairs without handrails
  • Sloped surfaces
  • Metal surfaces lacking skid-resistance
  • Cluttered walkways
  • Dark walkways
  • Uncovered electrical cords
  • Open file drawers
  • Oily floors
  • Floors with loose debris
  • Shoes without defined soles or proper treads
  • Iced surfaces


Once the risks are defined, the refinery folks need to work together to mitigate or raise awareness to the risks.


You can over-engineer any solution or you can under-mitigate any issue. The key is to balance solution effectiveness and sustainability with effort and spend. This sounds like senseless management rhetoric, but organizations that achieve this proper balance understand how to make the right trade-offs.


Examples of effective solutions include the following:

Create Good Housekeeping Practices

  • Establish routine work procedures
  • Assign responsibilities
  • Involve leadership in conducting field audits


Reduce Slippery Surfaces

  • Maintain clean sidewalks in good condition
  • Use adhesive striping material or anti-skid paint
  • Clean up spills immediately

Maintain Proper Lighting

  • Repair malfunctioned lights asap
  • Add lighting to dark walkways

Wear Proper Shoes

  • Wear proper foot protection and maintain integrity of soles
  • Keep shoe laces tied


The last barrier of defense is human behavior. As academic understanding evolves in this space, human factors supporters continue to point us down the path of enhanced engineering solutions. While there is certainly a place engineered solutions, you ultimately cannot replace plain common sense.


While common sense is often subdued by the enticing charms of Mr. Distraction and Ms. Shortcut, it regularly needs to be reinforced by work peers and leadership.


Reinforcement does not simply come in the form of a cheesy safety slogan, but an authentic reminder that every task should come with ample preparation. Whether it is hot-tapping a hydrocarbon line, or simply walking to the control room, “Do it safely or don’t do it at all”.

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