Published on Jun 14, 2015

The Missing Piece of the Puzzle - Transforming the Safety Culture at Luberef


Luberef is the only base oil producer in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, supplying companies such as Shell, Mobil, Caltex, Fuchs and Petromin Corporation. Founded in 1978, it now operates as a joint venture between Saudi Aramco and Jadwa Industrial Investment. It also exports the high quality base oil manufactured at its two refineries in Jeddah and Yanbu to more than 15 countries around the world. It is a fast growing company, with significantly expanded production capacity at its Yanbu site planned to come online in 2016.

Luberef success factors ...

  • Visible commitment by Luberef leadership
  • Clear, accountable structure of responsibilities
  • Fixed safety expectations that are part of KPIs and formal assessments
  • Tracking of leading indicators as well as lagging ones ... that led to measurable results
  • 7 million man hours without Lost Time Injury (LTI) at both Luberef sites
  • Total process incident rate cut by 75% (December 2014)
  • Environmental incident rate at 0 (December 2014),
  • Total occupational health incident rate at 0 (December 2014)
  • Total recordable injury rate, for both employees and contractors, cut by 100% (December 2014)
  • 2 turnarounds achieved without incident • Lasting change to management involvement
  • Mechanical availability of sites running at 98%

No more stop-start safety...

In anticipation of this planned expansion, the question of how to bring about safety change became critical in 2011. In 2003, Luberef had already tried to implement a safety management system by itself without help from others, but only achieved limited success. As Samir Khan, who was safety and security manager at the time and is now corporate risk coordinator and project manager for the safety culture transformation project, explains: "One could say that safety used to be 'policed'. That was the culture in which Luberef had grown up. Safety was a discipline issue and considered to be the sole responsibility of the safety department. It was very hard to make people realise that safety is everyone's responsibility."

In describing the past work safety culture, Saad Saud Bukhari, a maintenance field foreman says, "we used to look for a solution after an incident had happened. The root cause was always human error. The culture was one of attaching blame."

Hussam Al-Johani, inspection engineer, says the result was that "people were afraid to report any unsafe conditions. They would by-pass procedures or safety requirements in order to save time. People would only follow the safety rules in front of officials. For example, they would wear the safety belt only when they reached the main gate of the refinery."

Abduhllah Banakhr, specialist mechanic, is equally forthright: "Hundreds of changes were implemented without proper review and without documentation. Near misses were not reported." Initiatives would start and stop in isolation with no clear link between them. There was consequently only limited safety awareness at Luberef. Mr. Ibrahim Al-Faqeeh, vice-president manufacturing says: "The drivers of the safety effort did not really believe in it and consequently did not push it. As a result, the safety system was never adopted from the ground up.

When I looked at incidents, I could see a link, but there was no proper system in place to make that link visible to everyone. That is why we ended up having repetitive incidents."

Visible tracking of the safety performance at Luberef 's Jeddah site

All that came to a stop in 2011, when Luberef 's president realised safety had to be tackled in an over-arching process with help from outside. As Luberef President and CEO Dr. Hasan Alzahrani says: "Safety is one of our core corporate values and an integral part of our strategic objective. As such we look at safety as a way of not only doing business, but rather as a way of life, because we want to be safe at work, at home and on the road. Our major challenge was not creating a safety management system or policy or procedures. Although these are imperatives for any successful safety program, our challenge was to establish the mind-set, behaviours and culture needed to achieve and maintain safe actions and conditions. That is why we embarked on a journey to transform our safety culture. Our aim is to be a leading company for the sake of our people, properties, community and shareholders." Luberef had worked with dss+ in 1994 on very successful manager and supervisor training. The decision was taken to call dss+ back in to study Luberef 's culture and develop a systematic approach to safety management.

... But an integrated approach

Mr. Al-Faqeeh says: "Back in 2011, I was refinery manager at our Yanbu site. I really liked the comprehensiveness of the dss+ approach. It tackles all aspects of operational risk management in an integrated fashion from mechanical integrity to risk assessment, from the management of change to contractor safety, and more. I looked at their approach to safety and thought 'This is what is missing. It has the potential to not only improve safety but the whole manufacturing process.''

dss+ carried out an initial assessment of the Luberef sites in 2011 and subsequently made several recommendations. These ranged from developing safety leadership competencies to putting in place a best practice safety management system, training all levels of the organisation, setting up a self-maintaining safety management structure, as well as a change in incident reporting and a move from tracking lagging indicators to measuring leading indicators as well.

Alan Walton, dss+ project manager, says: "It became clear that the key success factor of the project would be to move the Luberef organisation from focusing on reactive indicators to predictive or proactive indicators. Based on dss+ observations, Luberef at the time had a high incident potential. This would not be reduced if the company only addressed the efficiency of the safety management system and the safety culture itself. The company also had to act on the risks identified by improving incident reporting, carrying out first and second party system audits and putting in place a strong behavioural observation programme." dss+ was very clear that these programmes would only be successful if they were championed by senior leadership.

Obtaining employee engagement

dss+ introduced Luberef to the key elements of operational risk management. Each element was assigned a task team with a project leader. dss+ supported Luberef in its internal development of each of the 22 elements, training the task teams in best practice so that they could pass these learnings on to the wider Luberef teams. dss+ also helped Luberef to develop new standards and procedures. Elements were introduced sequentially, with the final team, responsible for emergency preparedness and planning, starting work in December 2014.

"Luberef showed real commitment to the new safety effort," Mr. Walton says. "Not just through active participation of the senior leadership in regular safety observation visits and audits, but also by introducing all process safety elements during the design and construction phase of the projects and by including almost a third its workforce on project teams."

Samir Khan believes this was necessary as there was initial resistance to the new safety programme from different levels fearing the change in workloads and implementation difficulties. "At the beginning, they thought this was just another initiative that would stop as soon as the company president left and everything would revert back to the old way of working." Mr.Al-Faqeeh confirms this. "People did resist. They were waiting to see if the project would fly or fail. We had to keep pushing. This project is like a messenger. To convert people, you have to be patient. You have to make them understand that everything has something to do with safety. Nothing is outside of the safety framework. It's a 360 degree process."

Dr. Alzahrani also emphasises the need for full commitment from everybody in the organisation. "We want to create buy-in at all levels. This starts with building awareness, then leads on to belief in the safety culture and develops into a passionate commitment. Only then can we say that we really have the buy-in of all our people."

That is also why Luberef has made safety part of its employees KPIs, formal appraisal and job plans. Even bonus payments are linked to safety targets. In 2014, achievement of safety KPIs accounted for 25% of every employee's bonus payment. This is just one way in which Luberef demonstrates the value leadership places on safety and sets clear expectations. It is of benefit to Luberef employees as well, as Mr. Khan points out. "We didn't use to train and enhance safety management skills. Now we do. For our engineers, for example, this is an attractive addition to their professional CVs."

Kannath Krishna Prasad, a mechanical engineer at the Yanbu site, has seen a marked difference in employee engagement. "We have observed a continual improvement in the safety culture," he says. "We started discussing the safety issues within our maintenance team. Also, our daily meeting now commences with a safety contact. 98 % of our employees attended the e-learning program and re-certification is due within a year."

Safety roles and expectations are now clearly communicated to employees. Aileshkumar Hirvania, E&I superintendent for maintenance at the Jeddah site explains: "We conduct a tool box talk, explain the job safety analysis to the operators, conduct safety meetings and provide incident alert information. Although we had work safety before, it has become more organised and analysed, and provides us with useful information."

Khalid Zahrani, a lead operator says operators now have "better handover, better log sheets, are more aware of the importance of personal protective equipment (PPE) and are more aware of the risks of fatigue."

Anas S. Al-Rasheed, a process engineer at the Yanbu site believes "the general safety culture of the workforce has drastically improved over the past year. Operators and technicians are more careful when signing permits, isolating equipment and during daily routine jobs, but I believe that the safety culture needs to be polished from time to time to prevent it from getting rusty."

Visible changes

With this amount of input and focus on safety improvement, Luberef has already seen results. By November 2014, both the Yanbu and Jeddah refineries had operated more than seven million man-hours without incident. They had also both executed turnarounds without any LTIs. By December 2014 the total process safety incident rate had dropped by 75%, and the environmental incident rate, the total occupational health incident rate and the total recordable injury rate, for both employees and contractors, all stood at 0.

So much for the lagging indicators, but Luberef is also using leading indicators to track progress and they show that both the Jeddah and the Yanbu site have proactively followed up safety observations with immediate actions to almost 90%.

The improvement in safety has a knock-on effect on productivity and output, as Mr. Khan explains: "If the plant is working safely, we save time. Our target for the mechanical availability of the plant is 98 %. This year, we will achieve and may even exceed that target." At both sites, Luberef is also doing considerably better than its targeted Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF).

This is not only visible to senior management, but also to employees at other levels. As Afsar Sherwani, process engineer at the Yanbu site says, "due to the work safety transformation, incidents and near misses overall have been reduced which results in an increase in production and a reduction in lost man hours."

Operations manager Sami Mulla backs this up with a concrete example. "We recently started up a vacuum unit. Before doing so we carried out a Prestart-up Safety Review (PSSR). We were sure we would have no more surprises with PSSR and carried out the start-up days earlier than normal. dss+ has changed the way in which our company operates by 80 percent."

dss+ will carry out another progress assessment towards the first quarter of 2015, but the interim assessment from 2013 already showed a marked improvement in the relative cultural strength score of the manager population. In other words, managers are involved in and are experiencing change. The graph below documents an increased involvement in safety improvement activities in Q8a, increased empowerment to take action in Q10, greater quality and effectiveness of safety meetings in Q12c, and an improvement in the safety of physical facilities in Q20a.

Mr. Khan says incident investigation now captures root causes and ensures preventative action is taken.

An ongoing effort

However, Mr. Al-Faqeeh is not one to sit still. "I have come to realise that safety is not a destination, but a journey. We have seen a change in mindsets and in safety perceptions, but we still have a way to go before employees manage safety independently. You cannot change people overnight. So, there is room to speed up the change process. However, I know now that there is no way back. We have passed the critical stage and so many people are now committed to the new safety process that we will keep improving.

He is not alone. Shift lead operator Khalid Zahrani says: "Safety is a core business value and integral to the very existence of the organisation. It is obvious that there is a difference between before and after, but there is a need for further work, for more achievements."

For 2015, Mr. Al-Faqeeh is adding new items to his safety index. Luberef will be looking at contractor safety and will track more leading indicators.

One day I will leave Luberef," Mr. Al-Faqeeh says. "When I do, I will leave behind an improved safety culture. That will be my legacy."

"Safety is one of our core corporate values and an integral part of our strategic objective. As such we look at safety as a way of not only doing business, but rather as a way of life, because we want to be safe at work, at home, and on the road. Our major challenge was not creating a safety management system or policy or procedures. Although these are imperatives for any successful safety program, our challenge was to establish the mindset, behaviours and culture needed to achieve and maintain safe actions and conditions. That is why we embarked on a journey to transform our safety culture. Our aim is to be a leading company for the sake of our people, properties, community, and shareholders."

Dr. Hasan Alzahrani, P&CEO, Luberef