Project managers trained the workers to follow stringent safety rules to avoid accidents. “When you have more than 15,000 people working for you on a project, that is over 150,000 fingers potentially at risk,” said Sipke Mennes, senior Health Safety and Environment advisor. “We had to take care of all of them.”

Communicating across cultures

Instilling safety procedures was all the more challenging because the workers spoke at least seven different languages. To overcome language barriers, project leaders used novel ways to get the message across, such as hand-drawn images to show potential safety incidents at daily team meetings.

“We gave out safety leaflets ourselves,” said Sipke. “Here the workers knew the managers.”

He believes promoting safety is about relating to the workers. A theatre production used music and mime to tell the story of a migrant worker staying safe to return to his family. “Weeks afterwards people were still talking about it,” said Sipke. “They replayed parts, showing the message had hit home.”

All over the construction site posters of Singa the lion, a mascot developed to suit different cultures, reminded staff of safety rules.

Construction workers on a meal break
Workers at the Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex project take a break for lunch

Rewarding safety success

Workers constructed the mono-ethylene glycol (MEG) processing plant on Jurong Island in 13.5 million working hours, without anyone having to take time off through injury. That is the same as one person working constantly for seven days a week for 1,500 years.

The record for the entire SEPC project was nearly 38 million man-hours with no lost time due to injury. To mark 15 million hours Shell made donations to two organisations that help foreign workers, to reflect the multicultural construction workforce. The total lost time due to injury averaged less than for working in an office.

Chemicals Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex under construction
Workers monitor a reactor as it is lowered on site at the Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex

Safety training programme

In 2008 Shell launched a programme to train more people in safety instead of relying on a small group of qualified safety professionals. The Training Safety Advisor Programme — specially tailored to the oil, gas and petrochemical industries — was the first of its kind in Singapore. More than 2,000 people applied for just 87 places.

Nearly 80% of participants passed the final exam and received international accreditation from the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health. Graduates returned to Singapore’s construction industry and helped strengthen its safety culture.

More in Shell Eastern Petrochemicals Complex

Scaling up new chemical reactions

Engineers at Shell have developed a more efficient process for making the raw materials needed to manufacture many of today’s plastics and textiles.

A successful upgrade

Shell successfully upgraded the ethylene cracker on Bukom Island in early 2015, boosting production of ethylene by more than 20%.

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