Frank Bird may have died last summer, but his thoughts and ideas live on. Total Petrochemicals firmly believe in his safety management principles. In fact, these principles are foundational in how Total Petrochemicals globally approaches safety and loss control today. The company is convinced these ideas are as appropriate today as they were 40 years ago when Frank Bird first launched them.
“The reason for this is quite simple,” says Pol Hoorelbeke, the Vice President of Health, Safety and Environment in Total Petrochemicals in Brussels. “Good safety results come from doing the right things, and doing things right. First you must know what these ‘right things’ are, and then you must concentrate on doing them. DNV’s Modern Safety Management concepts training course, and the International Safety Rating System that measures compliance with the concepts, were developed from the thoughts and ideas of Frank Bird. These systems are very logical,” says Mr Hoorelbeke.
15% reduction each year
“It really is very clear. When a company like Total Petrochemicals manages to reduce its number of accidents during a five-year period by 15% each year to 75 accidents last year, there is no doubt that the ‘medicine’ has worked. We’re still not happy about 75 accidents, but we’re nonetheless proud of what we’ve achieved.
Following a merger in 2001, Total became one of the five largest oil and gas companies in the world. Analysis showed the company’s safety performance was not in line with the performance of the other major oil companies. Then senior management placed a high priority in improving the safety performance.
“Senior management challenged us to not only be among the best, but be the best in overall safety performance” says Pol Hoorelbeke. “Demonstrated senior management commitment played a large part in our success.”
An important step in the improvement process was the development and implementation of an integrated management system that included the principles of ISO 14001, the Seveso legislation, the Process Safety Management regulations in the US, and Total’s own, internal requirements.
In addition to the external audits, Total conducts regular internal audits.
“We want to ensure our systems are effective and efficient at all times, so we monitor them closely. During these internal ‘cross audits’, we use internally trained auditors from other sites. This provides learning across our site boundaries, and has proven to be very useful. We have about 20 Accredited Safety Auditors within the company. These people are among our most experienced,” he says.
Working in partnership with DNV and based on the ISRS/Modern Safety Management model, Pol Hoorelbeke and his team have held training courses for several thousands employees company-wide.
“Not only have we achieved great audit results, our culture has also started to change,” says Mr Hoorelbeke. He particularly mentions a plant where the staff has worked for two million hours without a recordable accident, and a project on which employees have worked for 10 million hours without recordable accidents.
Change of culture
“The results speak for themselves,” he says. “However, if we are to improve, we must continue to change our culture. Frank Bird’s safety principles are critical. He showed that for each significant accident you have, there were 600 near misses. In order to control the major loss events, you must concentrate on the root causes for not only the major accidents, but also on the causes for the 600 incidents. When you explain this to people, it’s very easy to understand” says Pol Hoorelbeke and continues; “Frank Bird was successful because he took a collection of basic principles, and brought them together. He made them simple and easy to understand. Anybody could have done it, but nobody did it before he did,” says Mr Hoorelbeke. He points out that Frank Bird built a whole business around his principles at the International Loss Control Institute (ILCI). DNV saw the importance of this, and acquired ILCI in 1991. DNV continues to develop and improve these risk management principles today to meet the needs of current and future clients.
“Excellence in safety, environmental and security performance affects the bottom line. But it shows we value our employees, the environment, and our reputation as well,” says Mr Hoorelbeke.