Project Management Institute

In safe hands


Effective managers control more than scope, schedule, cost and quality. They plan for safe project delivery.


No matter how well a project manager delivers on a project's technical requirements, the overall safety performance will leave the most lasting impression in key stakeholders’ minds. Proper safety planning in engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) projects guarantee trouble-free performance during execution and beyond.

With an ethylene production capacity at 1.6 million tons from two plants, Arabian Petrochemical Co., Al-Jubail, Saudi Arabia, decided in 1997 to add a third plant with a capacity of 800,000 tons per year. Projects of this scale usually require 48 to 54 months from inception to plant commissioning, but the Olefins-III project was planned on an ambitious 42-month timeline.

To meet the aggressive deadline, the Arabian Petrochemical team had to manage engineering requirements while ensuring safety processes were both efficient and effective.



Inspection of in-line piping components is carried out during the annual Olefins-III plant turnaround. Equipment and piping have been thoroughly flushed and purged prior to opening to prevent employee contact with chemicals.

Arabian Petrochemical's safety planning begins with formal process safety management (PSM), which allows systematic identification, analysis and elimination of hazards by integrating process safety into the design, construction, operation and maintenance of facilities.

Considering the entire project life cycle, PSM is a type of risk management. Typical PSM tools include:

img What-if analysis of the original plan vs. the modified plan

img Checklists of necessary safety features and functions

img Hazard and operability (HAZOP) reviews, which use a list of keywords to examine each part and operation of a facility to determine both the probability and consequence of each mode of failure

img Failure modes and effect analysis (FMEA), which is a practical, realistic and documented assessment of the failure characteristics of the project and its component systems

img Fault tree analysis, which is a deductive, top-down method of analyzing system design and performance that specifies a top event (such as a fire) and identifies all associated system elements that could cause that event.

In May 1997, Stone & Webster, Houston, Texas, USA, was selected as Olefins-III process licensor and as the basic engineering/ front-end engineering package contractor. A core project management team was formed and joined Stone & Webster in Houston for review and approval of the basic engineering package. At this point, the design was well defined to allow meaningful application of PSM elements: The design could change without a major cost impact. During these initial PSM reviews, a number of risks were considered:

img Employee safety

img Loss of plant or equipment

img Slowed or stopped production

img Liability

img Insurability

img Public safety

img Environmental impacts.

As the design became progressively firm, the Olefins-III PSM reviews investigated upcoming safety issues. During the front-end engineering effort, the project management team placed purchase orders for major long lead-time items, such as compressors, boilers, heat exchangers and columns. The collective expertise and experience of both the owner project management team and Stone & Webster was essential to keep the schedule on-track. The basic engineering/front-end engineering package was completed on schedule in May 1998.

Cautious Construction

During construction, contractor safety programs that detail the basic safety rules and regulations at owner's facilities are an essential part of bidding documents. Training and skills are outlined, and the contractor workforce must undergo a basic safety orientation that describes safety rules and emergency response procedures as part of any detailed plan.

The safety program also may require the contractor to set up a first-aid/emergency clinic complete with trained nursing staff, medical supplies and ambulance. The clinic should provide for treatment of heat stress, sunstroke and other ailments commonly encountered during construction work.

The contract for Olefins-III EPC management was awarded to a consortium of Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding, Japan, and Parsons Engineering, Pasadena, Calif., USA. Detailed analyses of the computer-generated three-dimensional plant model identified and eliminated issues relating to plant safety, reliability operability and maintainability.

Reporting Incidents

All construction contractors must be required to submit a monthly safety report that includes a discussion of accidents, incidents and near misses encountered during a given month. The report also provides monthly and cumulative statistics of safety performance. The total recordable incidence rate (TRIR) provides a standard measure of safety performance that can be compared with performance of other companies in the same industry.

To calculate TRIR, multiply the number of injuries and illnesses by 200,000 and divide the total by the employee hours worked. The number 200,000 provides a standard annualized basis for the incidence rates and is the equivalent of 100 persons working 40 hours per week, 50 weeks per year. Thus, the incidence rate might be applied regardless of different working schedules.

For example, if the total number of injuries and illnesses during a certain period is 10 and total man-hours worked are 300,000, then the TRIR is:


This number can be compared with industry-specific data provided on the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Web site at

Most companies have developed their own accident-reporting procedures and forms that may be used to log the number of nonfatal injuries and illnesses.

Olefins-III plant design was compared to company's two existing ethylene plants. Detailed operating data and incident/accident reports from previous plants were reviewed. This study provided valuable insight into past safety-related problems and enabled the project management team and EPC contractor to enhance the safety and reliability of the project.

Working Communication

Although construction contractors must execute the safety plan, the owner's project management team must manage that plan. When a contractor is expanding an existing facility or simply removing bottlenecks, the project management team must coordinate the operating department and construction staff.

These construction projects prove more difficult when multiple operating departments and construction contractors are involved, such as civil contractors responsible for building facilities, principal contractors accomplishing the bulk of construction work and piping contractors working on feedstock and product export piping.

In oil, gas and petrochemical projects, the utilities department provides air, water, steam, nitrogen and effluent treatment to the entire plant or complex. Additional equipment and facilities may be required to enable this department to provide the required service capacity.

The project management team builds trust with operating department personnel during regular communications. The contractors also use the project management team as their point of contact. Thus, the project manager should serve as the interface between the two groups, coordinating regular meetings, site walk-throughs or even informal discussions when necessary.

Operating department personnel may be concerned about contractor safety performance and housekeeping efforts. Proper warning signs must be placed near excavation sites, heavy-lifting work areas or X-ray (radiography) equipment. In addition, contractor personnel must wear personal protective equipment. Moreover, safety belts are mandatory when working at heights, mono-goggles are required when loading or unloading dangerous chemicals, and hearing protection is required when noise levels are high. In an oil, gas and petrochemical environment, safety assumes a different level altogether and continuous monitoring and counseling may be required to achieve desired results.

Contractors, on the other hand, may be concerned about obtaining late work permits, displaying proper identification in underground facilities during excavation work or facilitating mini-shutdowns for necessary tie-ins. The owner's project management team must coordinate these issues and ensure compliance.


Workers are insulating and cladding piping at the Olefins-III plant. Dust masks and leather gloves are worn by technicians to prevent contact with insulation dust.


Each phase of the Olefins-III plant project included safety provisions outlined during planning.


Workers on the Olefins-III project wore safety equipment during construction and maintenance operations. Shown, an end cover plate is tightened using pneumatic tools.

Always On-Track

Without proper planning, safety issues may cause scope creep. Along the way, contractors or operating department personnel may develop suggestions that improve operability or maintainability of the process but still require added expenditure. It is, therefore, imperative that the project manager be involved in all discussions related to scope change to prevent hefty change orders as the project progresses.

The detailed Olefins-III engineering phase was completed in the allotted 18 months. However, during the construction phase, minor revisions accommodated the owner's requirements for enhanced productivity and resolved discrepancies between the design documents and the actual field situation.

Construction of the Arabian Petro-chemical's Olefins-III plant started in the last quarter of 1998, and production was set to begin as scheduled in December 2000. During 2001, the plant frequently operated at 125 percent of design capacity without any major problems and continues to operate safely. PM

Asadullah Khan, PMP, is a senior project engineer with Saudi Basic Industries Corp. (SABIC), Al-Jubail, Saudi Arabia. He has 12 years of experience in project engineering and management in the petrochemical industry.

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.




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