Chemical Facility Relocation Prompts Safety Moves

Massive project pioneers enhanced safety standards for construction.

By Karl Fred Woerner, Celanese

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When I learned officials of the Frankfurt International Airport in Germany were planning to build a new runway right next to the 40-year-old original Celanese Ticona polyoxymethylene (POM) facility, I thought, "No problem, we'll just move."

Then the situation's enormity hit. We had to build a new plant and move operations there while maintaining production of the acetal copolymers at the original facility — all while adding minimal headcount. I realized this was a rare project that only comes around once in a career, and it wouldn't be easy. It would force everyone involved to deliver more than they thought they could.

In November 2006, after several years of discussion, we finalized negotiations with the airport officials and the state government for Celanese to move the plant. The new runway's construction permit was granted in 2008, and the first jet was scheduled to land on October 1, 2011. We had three-and-a-half years to complete the project. The race to the 2011 deadline was a marathon, and we crossed the finish line on September 26, 2011, when the new plant opened in the nearby Frankfurt Hoechst Industrial Park.

After the earliest stages of construction, Celanese assumed responsibility for all issues related to safety. In the more than three million working hours logged during construction and commissioning of the new plant since the safety responsibility change, zero serious injuries occurred.

The combination of size, quantity of materials and number of employees and contractors made this a complicated project. The plant required 40,000 m3 of concrete, 800 km of cable, 8,000 tonnes of steel and about 100 km of piping. In addition to the Celanese Ticona specialists, we employed around 1,200 workers at the construction site. About 400 engineers at facilities in China, Germany, India, Netherlands and Poland also were involved in the project.

[Related: Process Safety Begins in the Board Room]

To successfully manage the vast complexity, we implemented new safety standards. These were stricter than government requirements and more stringent than our current standards. Then using these standards, we changed the safety culture by focusing on four key areas: 1) securing the right team and thoroughly training the team in safety; 2) maintaining constant dialogue among groups; 3) ensuring collaboration; and 4) conducting routine safety checks. The new safety standards established for this project set a benchmark for the European — and perhaps global — chemical industry.

Construction projects of this size typically start with a construction management contractor and then expand with several construction teams. In building our qualified teams, we brought together workers from 55 nations — representing multiple cultures and religions, speaking 25 languages and even more dialects, and displaying different attitudes toward work.

The different approaches to work and safety standards made safety training the most critical part of the project. Workers more familiar with the culture of construction than that of manufacturing operations accepted accidents as part of the job. This belief was especially true for personnel used to working in countries with lower safety standards. Our challenge was to bring their focus on safety up to Celanese standards.

One of our first steps was to collaborate with our construction contractor to establish our safety organization and programs. We agreed to form one comprehensive safety team involving all onsite parties rather than having separate teams for each contractor.

We required 100% participation in training and conducted sessions all day and in multiple languages or with translators. Everyone participated in site introduction training. Then, each person received training specific to his or her role — and also had to complete working-on-heights training, which instructors delivered on a specially built scaffold to simulate real-world scenarios.

"Safety began at the entrance to the industrial park with an induction available in multiple languages and an exam to pass," notes Ted Thorpe, project director for GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), a Celanese customer who spent time at the site during construction.

[Related: Orchestrate an Effective Safety Culture]

We continued to improve the safety programs throughout the project — especially after four recordable safety incidents in May and June 2010. While the incidents themselves weren't serious, we were on the cusp of the peak of the construction workforce, with piping, electrical and instrumentation scheduled for the next eight months, so we needed to prepare accordingly.

We learned that people typically don't deliver if they're not accountable. So, with the goal to maintain safety, we created and implemented a new cyclical work process consisting of five elements:
1. setting and meeting expectations;
2. engaging all work levels in the field;
3. reinforcing safe behaviors;
4. recognizing good safety performance; and

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