Smith & Burgess' Blog

2020 Wrapped

Posted by Dick Baum on Jan 11, 2021 1:42:45 PM

About the Author
Mr. Baum has over 40 years of experience in Process Safety Management. He has been a process and risk assessment professional since 2006. Additionally, Mr. Baum has experience in refineries and chemical plants where he has held positions responsible for the development, implementation, and management of the PSM element.

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As we close the books on 2020, lets take a few moments to summarize and reflect on how life as we know it has changed forever and look to this year with a vision of hope and a somewhat return to normalcy.

The oil and gas market entered 2020 in a strong position. Oil price hovered at $63/BBL and the anticipated year was strong. A strong growth was anticipated and truthfully it looked to be the best year ever. Then it hit. Oil prices have had a roller coaster ride and are settled in the $42/BBL range currently. Multiple refineries have closed or are in mothballed status. Storage tanks are full and the industry has taken every step possible to try and maintain some sort of balance as the world recovers.

How has the industry adjusted to try and weather the storm? On the production side of things, it has been a challenge. Difficult business decisions have been made and plants were forced to close. Lost jobs in a country that went from 4% unemployment to over 12% leaves people with dire needs and few options. Some remaining facilities have curtailed production to minimal rates in an effort to stabilize the market as we recover.

Along with the reduction/changes in operating facilities, the day to day staff operations also had to change. The energy corridor here in Houston was a ghost town. Buildings closed, staff layoffs, working from home became the norm and that normalcy still has not returned. Some have returned to work on limited schedules. Creative minds have thought outside the box and come up with ways to maintain the support needed to keep the businesses afloat. Rotating work weeks, split shifts and providing resources to employees working from home have all contributed in maintaining the industry.

And let’s not forget the onsite workers. Protocols have been established in the plants to allow for a safe work environment for those essential employees and staff. There is a client that has allowed only the same 12 operations people to enter the main control room of a mid-stream facility since March. If you stop and think of that for a minute that means no engineer, supervisor, mechanic or contractor has entered a building that they would have routinely visited daily. It’s because of dedicated employees that, even with this example of a very strict guideline, our industry is operating with some sort of normalcy.

As a consulting company we also have learned to adapt. Working from home was usually a bit of a perk that occurred as personal issues may have happened. Currently the norm, we have molded and developed strategies to make it a viable option for sustainability to our business. Long term plans are still being developed/considered in many areas, but employees have adapted well enough that the near future is solid.

The day to day activities have changed. On site visits to clients just can’t happen yet. It’s always a challenge to communicate externally and not have the real-life personal relationships that we have developed when visiting clients at their sites. Let’s all hope handshakes come back to reality.

One critical path we have taken during this unique time is to focus on what will make us a better and stronger asset for our clients. Training, training, training… with the strong support of management, the opportunities for more and advanced training will benefit us all. Whether it’s the detailed skills of pressure relief device and flare analysis or the soft skills of how to make Excel more friendly, we will come out of this period a much stronger group of employees. It’s been amazing to read all the articles written, attend the webinars and participate in training sessions to see how adaptable everyone is, and those efforts then shared with all their colleagues.

2020 - COVID, positivity rate, quarantine, masks, sanitizer, vaccine

2021 - Positive outlook and hope 

 Safety Knowledge Should be Share...

“It should not be necessary for each generation to rediscover the principles of process safety which the generation before discovered. We must learn from the experience of others rather than learn the hard way. We must pass on to the next generation a record of what we have learned.” - Jesse C. Ducommun, Safety Pioneer
As Process Safety engineers and consultants, we believe our unique position creates a responsibility for Smith & Burgess to share our years of accumulated safety knowledge.

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