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Shell gambles with workers lives to undertake major maintenance at Pernis despite coronavirus

English translation of an article published today by the Dutch FT. Seems something is lost in the Google translation of the second sentence of the first paragraph (highlighted in red text)?

Shell Pernis takes more time for major maintenance

By Frank Gersdorf: 20 April 2020

The first factory that Shell Pernis is working on is under construction. Photo Bas Czerwinski for the FD

  • Major maintenance in the petrochemical industry is risky in the corona crisis, because it requires a lot of extra personnel.
  • Shell nevertheless continues the renovation plans for three factories in the Botlek.
  • Shell Pernis thinks it can work safely and is afraid that if maintenance is delayed, it will soon be can’t get the right people.

Maintenance technicians still like to smoke. They prefer to run a bitch. And that’s why Shell Pernis has come up with something to let the hundreds of employees who will be working on giving three factories a major overhaul in the next six weeks without them gathering together and thereby breaking the corona rules.

Shell has new smoking spots outside that are made of scaffolding tubes. The construction forces each smoker into their own loft. ‘It’s working. The smokers remain at a safe distance from each other and can still talk to each other, ‘says Jan van IJperen during a bicycle tour past Shell’s petrochemical installations in the Botlek. As an event manager, Van IJperen is responsible for the turnarounds, which is jargon for major maintenance.

Drastic job

On Saturday, the employees started disassembling installations in the first factory, where the production of motor fuel components, mainly diesel, was stopped during Easter. A new heat exchanger is shining in the sun next to the factory. He must replace an old one in the coming weeks. The maintenance is a major job, which must be carried out once every six years on average.

It is remarkable that Shell Pernis is continuing the maintenance. Gunvor, one of the neighbours, wanted to start major maintenance two weeks ago, but cancelled the operation at the eleventh hour. On closer inspection, the refinery did not consider it justifiable to employ an additional 2500 people.

Right people

Jos van Winsen, general manager of Shell Pernis, says he has carefully considered everything, together with the contractors and the authorities. It was soon decided to continue. “We did not think it wise to postpone the stop,” says Van Winsen by phone from home. ‘We have made agreements with contractors years in advance to get the right people. If everyone postpones maintenance until autumn, we will not receive it later. The contractors are also very happy that we will continue. ”

Corona smoking spots at Shell Pernis picture Bas Czerwinski for the FD

Postponement would also mean that other renovation projects at Shell Pernis would be jeopardized. The Botlek refinery, the largest in Europe, consists of 66 factories, all of which have to be shut down periodically for necessary maintenance. Van IJperen works years ahead to ensure that everything runs smoothly.

Lower peak

So no suspension, but Shell has changed the schedule. The biggest change is that the three factories are not being treated simultaneously. The renovation of the first is two weeks early. The advantage of this is that during the peak in May, only an extra 1,000 people work, and not 1,500, as previously anticipated.

The phasing also allows Shell to get the first five hundred employees accustomed to the rules they must observe to prevent infection with the corona virus. “We have two weeks to get those rules right in with them before it gets busier,” says Van Winsen. He is counting on the fact that once the vanguard has mastered the right approach, the ‘group dynamics’ will do the rest, allowing safe work to continue even during the peak crowds in May. “If you come to Albert Heijn and everyone there behaves as it should, you tend to do that yourself,” says the director. “Technically everything works. It’s human behavior that you have to get under control. ”

Facial masks

In order to steer that behavior in the right direction, Shell has taken practical safety measures, some of which have been copied from the Shell refinery in Singapore, which had a corona infection in February. While Van IJperen shows some while cycling, a van brings a large box of face masks. ‘We bought fifteen hundred of them. And there are a thousand more on order. ” The plexiglass masks make it possible to work closer than one and a half meters together, if necessary.

Yellow lines on the ground inside and outside must prevent employees from passing each other. The number of work chains has doubled, so that there is no pressure there either. The long dining tables in the canteen have been replaced by tables for two, with a partition in the middle. Everything is more spacious, everywhere there are notes with warnings and guidelines.

It can be seen that reality can be unruly, when two technicians outside are talking close to each other while talking. “We could do better,” says Van IJperen.


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