Friday, June 06, 2008

Workers’ safety fears at Fawley refinery

Article from the The Southern Daily Echo on 3 May 2008 by Peter Law. It has sparked quite a lively debate on the newspaper's website. The HSE report that prompted the article is also available.

Excerpts from the article are shown below.

"Anxious staff at the giant Fawley oil refinery have revealed their fears of a major accident at the plant in a shocking new report obtained by the Daily Echo. The workers highlight the refinery's ageing infrastructure and lack of maintenance among their major concerns. Other staff at the complex - the largest of its kind in Britain - also admit under-reporting minor incidents, accidents and near-misses for fear of losing their cash bonuses received for their safety record, says the document."

This all comes from a report by inspectors from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in which they conclude they "had never encountered such a prominent and pervasive blame culture at any other refining and chemical complex in the country. Of particular concern was the extremely high numbers of staff stating that they would not be surprised if a major incident were to occur in the near future,"

In a statement the company said "Esso and ExxonMobil Chemical at Fawley strongly reject any claims that the Fawley site is unsafe. Fawley is the safest refinery in the UK for both personal safety and process safety, according to the latest figures from UKPIA (UK Petroleum Industries Association)." Also, "We take the safety of our people and of the local community extremely seriously. We have rigorous safety procedures in place and are regularly inspected by the Health and Safety Executive as to the safety of our plant and processes."

The HSE's Human Factors Inspection Report was the result of a two-day audit held with about 78 employees on January 8 and 9 and a feedback meeting on January 29.

The report also claims that although people were encouraged to report accidents or incidents, it seemed some staff were under-reporting because their bonuses were linked to safety. "Since the reward scheme is linked to safety eg lack of incident, it appears to have provided individuals with an incentive to cover up and not report minor incidents, accidents and near-misses as otherwise they (and their team) will be blamed for an incident and lose safety bonuses."

"As minor incidents/accidents are not being reported, the site may be missing precursors to something significant.

"The prevailing view is that when something goes wrong, the search is on for someone (and their supervisor) to blame, the fact that systems may be at fault appears not to feature. Worker's wide-ranging complaints also ranged from lack of morale to inadequate staffing levels, endemic overtime and ad hoc training. A fire, which occurred late last year, was put partially down to fatigue as a result of excessive working hours.

The report claims the organisation's blame culture stops some employees from raising issues and taking on additional responsibilities or overtime.

"Some participants felt uncomfortable raising issues, even with managers higher than the shift leader, but others felt that the culture is such that people don't want to raise problems and there would be repercussions if they did," the report states.

Senior staff expressed concern that trainees were not being given sufficient time to consolidate their training and that they may not have enough experience of the plant to deal with emergency situations.

There was a view that staffing levels were adequate on paper but in practice areas were badly staffed. This was partially attributed to stress-related sickness absence brought about by overtime, fatigue and the blame culture.

"There was a general lack-lustre feeling amongst staff, a lack of motivation compounded by fatigue and lethargy. Employees are beginning not to care about their roles or jobs being down to the required standard," the report states.

"The inspectors concluded that significant work needed to be undertaken to achieve full compliance with legal duties."

Andy Brazier

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