John Joswiak February 24, 2020

Turnaround Safety Starts With Risk Management

Turnaround season is a time when risk management in the oil industry comes into peril. Learn how to mitigate refinery turnaround risks with proper PPE for oil refinery workers.

Daily news updates cover the ongoing boom in capital projects for new oil and gas pipeline and refining facilities in the U.S. However, even during a period of sustained expansion, current facilities and equipment require continued maintenance to prevent incidents and unplanned downtime. Enter ‘Turnaround Season’, a time of year when gas and oil refineries and industrial plants schedule extended projects, or turnarounds, to inspect and test equipment and repair or renew existing process units while continuing production.


According to Petrochemical Update, North America is set for an increase in refinery turnarounds in 20201. In fact, “maintenance and turnaround projects are expected to total around 381 projects and valued at $2.5 billion.” What does this mean for refinery worker safety?


Many industry resources highlight valuable best practices in refinery turnaround planning, stressing the need to establish appropriate working relationships among oil refinery workers, define refinery turnaround safety procedures, execute training, and prepare proper equipment. This safety briefing details a practice that must be revisited at a strategic level before planning these projects – Risk Management in the Oil Industry.


First, a better understanding of refinery turnaround safety requires a summary of the overall energy industry’s inherent safety risks and companies’ approach to managing these risks. Working in the oil and gas and petrochemical industries expose any refinery worker to a lengthy list of diverse and ever-present hazards:
  • Burns, fires, and explosions
  • Crush and impact hazards
  • Contact with oil, chemicals, and other liquids
  • Cuts and abrasions
  • Environmental conditions
  • Lack of awareness (of self and surroundings)
  • Body and hand fatigue
  • Heavy machinery and equipment


To keep incidents to a minimum, energy companies employ a Risk Management Framework, a standard practice that begins with strategic planning centered around a Risk Matrix (Figure 1) to help identify and assess risks. Leadership can then make decisions on how to alter or control for them. 


For example, evaluating a processing unit that has a high likelihood of flammability (Event Likelihood) and is critical to production, expensive, and has workers present throughout the day (Potential Consequence) would result in an ‘High’ or ‘Unacceptable’ Risk Score and receive extensive attention to implement detective, preventative and corrective control procedures.

  • Detective – periodic inspections
  • Preventative – procedures and internal training, supervision
  • Corrective – maintenance or incident investigation protocol

A process with a lower Risk Score, such as entering the front door of the building every morning, may be deemed as an acceptable risk and no mitigating activities put in place. This is uncommon given the safety culture of the energy industry, but it does occur.


Figure 1


Refinery Turnaround Risks Explained


Refinery turnaround projects lead to several risk amplifiers that have a direct impact on safety:

  • Pressure to hit project deadlines
  • Temporary contractors onsite in unfamiliar work zones
  • ‘Live’ work space surroundings continue generating production
  • Limited existing procedures to define safety protocol

These factors increase both Event Likelihood and Potential Consequence for a plant’s activities. ‘High’ Risk Scores could move to ‘Unacceptable’, and ‘Low’ risks that previously received little to no mitigation activity could move to ‘Medium’ or even ‘High’ Risk Score (Figure 2). Failure to account for these changes through appropriate Risk Management could result in even the most diligent refinery turnaround planning falling short of the desired outcome – zero incidents.


Figure 2


Remember the earlier example of a flammable processing unit? During a refinery turnaround, Risk Likelihood would increase due to maintenance activity or the presence of equipment that could damage the unit with improper use. Potential Consequence would also increase due to proximity of equipment and additional refinery workers unfamiliar with surroundings. Most importantly, this is not confined to refinery turnaround activity at a particular unit – this would hold true, to varying degrees, during a turnaround of any unit on the facility. Every new action in a plant’s ecosystem can have a chain reaction effect, impacting processes well beyond the direct project. Failure to properly execute this practice prior to refinery turnaround projects opens the possibility that even extensive refinery turnaround planning may result in the incorrect safety procedures, inadequate training, or incomplete PPE for the hazards workers will face during the project.


Refinery Turnaround Safety: What Can Be Done


Establishing a robust practice of Risk Management specific to each “Turnaround Season’ in the first phase of project planning can ensure that the company, plant, and most importantly all oil refinery workers stay safe. Plant and corporate leadership should define strategic refinery turnaround planning with the following accountable stakeholders:

  • Maintenance Manager
  • Heath, Safety, & Environmental Manager
  • Reliability Manager
  • General Contractor(s)
  • Production Manager
  • Compliance Officer

Proper due diligence for refinery turnaround safety will result in the following outcomes:

  • Enables detailed procedures to incorporate the most impactful safety protocols
  • Minimizes uncertainty when preparing and training refinery workers
  • Identifies and deploys all required PPE for the tasks at hand

At Ansell, we encourage a safety culture focused on appropriate risk management during major project and turnaround planning to ensure advanced safety precautions, including all required procedures, education and PPE. Together, we can keep plants incident free. To continue your education, read our recent Safety Briefing 5 Workplace Safety Tips for 2020.


  1. October 16, 2019


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