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Editorial comment

Back in May, Hydrocarbon Engineering hosted its second annual Refinery of the Future virtual conference, focusing on the latest developments, trends and innovations driving the future of the refining sector. The conference included a range of interesting presentations looking at topics including petrochemicals integration, digital transformation and site safety, as well as a reflection on a challenging year for the refining sector, courtesy of Wood Mackenzie.

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One of our keynote speakers at the conference was Lara Swett, the Vice President of Technical and Safety Programs at AFPM. Lara’s presentation looked at how the downstream sector became among the top safety performers in the manufacturing sector, and explored how AFPM members continually enhance safety at their facilities, whether through learning and development or pushing the envelope on technology use. The presentation was a fascinating insight into how the US refining and petrochemical sector has managed to achieve such an impressive safety record, and the role that emerging technologies and digital transformation will play as safety performance continues to improve.

The AFPM’s focus on safety was also highlighted in a recent article that featured in Politco.1 The piece reflects on the shift in the industries’ approach to safety with the introduction of the ‘Advancing Process Safety’ (APS) programme. The data-driven programme – which was also discussed in detail by Lara Swett during her presentation at Refinery of the Future – focuses on collaboration and promoting knowledge sharing about safety incidents and good practices among many of the US’ refining and petrochemical companies. Jim Mahoney, who was the Executive Vice President of operations at Koch Industries at the time (and who also served as Chairman of the AFPM board from 2012 to 2014), explained: “We decided to come together as an industry back in 2010 and make a commitment to share information to reduce incidents. If we could share information, if we could learn from each other, then we could take our performance as an industry to another level.”

The APS took a holistic look at process safety data from across the industries and analysed it in new ways. And rather than simply focusing on corporate safety leads, it brought together those workers responsible for on-the-ground safety at the plants to discuss common issues. This eventually shed light on the root causes of certain problems – including the fact that around one-third of workplace incidents were a result of human error – and provided clear data to support those findings. This information could then be used to identify solutions to the problems, and a number of sub-programmes have now been established to help companies continuously improve their safety performance.

APS is considered a key driver behind a more than 50% reduction in incidents in the US’ refineries and petrochemical plants since 2011. And it provides clear evidence of the amazing results that can be achieved when our industry comes together and increases collaboration.

Such a spirit of collaboration is always encouraged at Hydrocarbon Engineering. If you have a success story to tell, or an innovative solution to one of the problems facing our sector, we want to hear from you. Please get in touch using the contact information on the left of this page.

  1. ‘Industry Collaboration Drives Incident Rates at Refineries and Petrochemical Plants to Record Lows’, Politico, (28 May 2021).

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