Smoother, safer shutdowns, turnarounds and outages

Jon Lawson

How a single-source approach can simplify safety and reduce costs during plant shutdowns

Planned STOs (shutdowns, turnarounds and outages) are often scheduled for preventative maintenance and new equipment installation that must be performed to keep a plant running and in regulatory compliance. To minimise production downtime, this work must be completed within a very tight timeframe. As such, STOs are often feats of engineering, planning and coordination – work that begins many months, even years, before the event.

At the top of the list during any planned shutdown is safety. To prevent injury or loss of life, reduce liability and keep insurance rates in check, safety departments must provide the required safety training, products and services that will ensure that all on-site personnel and company assets are protected throughout the scope of the operation. Managing everything that encompasses ‘safety’ for an STO, however, is often a feat of its own.

During an STO, a typical facility can see its ranks swell from 50 to perhaps 200-300 additional workers that the safety department must properly equip, train and provide rescue and standby emergency services. This often requires managing multiple vendors of safety products and services as well as dealing direct with workers that are not familiar with the facility or its processes and are performing challenging, even high-risk, tasks.

Now, in a move designed to eliminate a point of complexity and coordination in an already complicated process, some facility safety departments are outsourcing to a single combined safety service provider that can deliver the entire gamut of safety-related products and services.

The benefits of this one-stop-shop approach for a planned shutdown are the single point of coordination, reduction in facility personnel required to manage the safety effort, access to extensive safety expertise and technical knowledge, potential cost savings on basic and more advanced personal protective equipment (PPE), and ability to respond quickly to unexpected situations or emergencies.

Safety first

Despite the focus on speedy return-to-service, those that have participated in planned shutdowns will attest that the primary emphasis is not how ‘fast’ the work is completed, but rather ensuring the safety of all involved. This is not mere lip service, but the prime directive, even if that means going over budget or delaying the project.

“Safety is number one,” says Kevin Nadolski, safety director at Duke & Duke Services. “Well before any of the work starts, the project managers are holding safety meetings and orienting employees on safety. This occurs both before and during the project, with managers reviewing daily reports about how many personnel are working, what they are doing, and if any are hurt they want to know exactly what happened.”

As safety director, Nadolski has utilised a number of PPE providers and safety service companies over the course of his career. Duke & Duke Services provides installation and maintenance of conveyor systems, bulk handling equipment, presses, cranes, robotics and other automated machinery, often during STOs.

He admits that the concept of a single, combined safety service provider is a novel idea in an industry where suppliers generally keep to well-defined market segments with minimal overlap. Large PPE providers, for example, offer catalogues with thousands of products, but rarely offer safety services - and vice versa.

Outsourcing safety

Nadolski first began outsourcing to a company that was later acquired by DXP Safety Services while working at a prior job, and has continued to use the company throughout the five years he has been at Duke & Duke.

DXP Services is a multinational company that has grown considerably while aggressively pursuing new acquisitions. The company now operates as a single provider of combined safety (products and services) for plant turnarounds.

In addition to an extensive catalogue of PPE items, the company maintains a large asset base of equipment including powered air trailers, supplied air trailers, emergency showers, eye wash equipment, maintenance, repair, operations and production (MROP) trailers, fire trucks and ambulances.

DXP also offers a comprehensive list of services, including safety training and supervision, confined space attendants and rescue teams, high angle rescue teams, rope rescue, gas detection, respiratory fit testing, audiometric testing, industrial hygiene, industrial medical services, fall protection and repair services.

In 2015, Nadolski estimates he has already used DXP a dozen times for onsite safety supervision, emergency response, confined space attendants, and supplied air trailers. He also utilises DXP to train employees that most complete annual confined space training.

Single-source benefits

The benefits of a one-stop-shop approach to safety begin well before the STO. As part of the pre-planning, a safety advisor from a combined service provider meets with facility safety and maintenance personnel to learn about their existing procedures and processes. For shorter projects this can be two to four weeks beforehand, or for a more complex project 12-18 months in advance.

The safety advisor then evaluates and monitors safety hazards and control strategies to ensure compliance with the facility’s safety rules, policies, programmes, criteria and procedures as well as all governmental regulations.

Given the unique requirements of each facility, there are no one-size-fits-all safety plan so each project is client-specific. In addition, the scope of involvement can be scaled from a single worker to a complete programme for the entire scope of the STO.

Another benefit to this approach is the ability to react to unexpected situations or emergencies. Although a tremendous amount of planning goes into a planned shutdown there are inevitably situations, requirements for specialised equipment, unexpected air quality issues, and even injuries that can leave safety personnel scrambling. With the breadth and scope of its expertise, a combined safety services company can tap into its resources quickly to resolve the situation.

In this regard, Nadolski says he relies on DXP to serve as an extra pair of eyes on the ground when he is not at the site. “We have been in situations where we have needed something safety-related on the spot and DXP was able to take care of it for us.”