Ehstoday 1352 Refinery

VPPPA 2013: Best Practices for Planning Safety into Maintenance Turnarounds

Sept. 23, 2013
Whether it's in a refinery or a factory, safety needs to be involved in the turnaround planning process – early and often.

A safe and successful maintenance turnaround requires months – or years – of meticulous planning.

But when should EHS professionals get involved?

The answer, Rusty Smith told attendees at the 2013 National VPPPA Conference in Nashville, is immediately after the last turnaround, "when you're getting ready for the next one."

"As soon as your group starts planning for the next turnaround, safety needs to be there with them," said Smith, who is turnaround safety coordinator for Marathon Petroleum LP in Detroit.

Smith emphasized the importance of safety collaborating with maintenance and operations during the planning process and throughout the turnaround. Together, the three departments form what he calls the "turnaround safety triangle."

"All three of them have to work together to be successful," Smith said.

Getting Safety Professionals on the Same Page

Still, meshing with maintenance and operations is just half the battle. Since the turnaround safety coordinator usually is the only safety representative in the planning group, the safety coordinator needs to make sure that other members of the safety department are in the loop.

"You come up with a strategy for going through the turnaround, and then [a safety professional] who's been on the south end of the plant doing their own thing gets pulled into your turnaround, and right off the bat, they're going, 'No, no, no, no,'" Smith explained. "You have to get your safety professionals on the same page.

"Is that hard to do? Sometimes. Because as safety people, we're very opinionated, and we have our ways that we like things done."

To ensure that all safety personnel are on the same page, Smith develops a Gantt chart, or project schedule, that breaks down the safety elements of the turnaround.

He also recommends having the safety staff review the turnaround procedures, as some of the tasks – such as in-service welds – might not be common in day-to-day operations.

Other strategies include codifying the safety expectations for contractors; creating an organizational chart for the safety staff; and using safety checklists to ensure that no critical items are forgotten.

"In our turnaround checklist sheet for safety, some of the things are, 'Do we have enough locks and blind tags?'" Smith explained.

Plan the Work, Stick to the Plan

Smith discussed a number of other turnaround procedures, training tools and best practices that he has learned over the years. They include:

  • Using nested contractors to mentor new contractors.
  • Ramping up the number of peer-to-peer observations. "We bring in extra observers for our turnarounds," Smith explained. "Because even though [safety professionals] go out there to help people, [workers] still see us as the bad guys."
  • Ramping up near-miss reporting during turnarounds.
  • Requiring contractors to resubmit their site-safety plans as well as their ventilation plans for confined-space work.
  • Developing guidelines for contractor safety representatives. These include minimum coverage requirements (based on the number of contractors on site) as well as the scope of work for the CSRs.
  • Creating pocket cards for hot-work attendants and confined-space attendants outlining common safety hazards and issues.
  • Requiring the use of spotters for heavy moving equipment. "You should use a spotter all the time, but more so in a turnaround because of the volume of foot traffic that you have," Smith explained.

A lot of things need to come together for a maintenance turnaround to be successful. But it only takes one key misstep – such as veering from the safety plan – to sabotage it.

"Plan your work, stick to your plan," Smith implored VPPPA attendees. "Because usually when we go off our plans, that's when something happens."

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