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Thousands of workers from more than 50 countries built the Pearl GTL (gas-to-liquids) plant. It was one of the world’s largest and most complex construction sites. Yet through teamwork and an imaginative approach to training that broke through language barriers, the project set a safety record.
The Pearl GTL project reached 77 million hours without an injury leading to time off work in 2010 — a record for both Shell and Qatar.
“It’s all about keeping energy levels up so that the focus is still there,” says Steve Norton, Shell General Manager HSE for Qatar. “Safety is our top priority.”
Encouraging people to follow safety rules by focusing on the human angle — that they will help everyone get safely back home to their families, and that it is not just about simply following rules — is central to safety training.
Safety through teamwork
Building the world’s largest GTL plant, Qatar
To get the message across, Shell turned to the international language of sport. Shell invited a famous Indian cricketer, Kepil Dev, to talk to workers on one of the Shell Safety Days that take place twice a year.
Kepil Dev was a boyhood hero for many of the workers, most of whom came from cricket-playing nations. Thousands came to see him talk about safety.
“It’s exactly the same as in a cricket team: one weak person can affect the whole team,” Kepil Dev told workers at Safety Day in January 2010. “Listening to your supervisor is the same as listening to your captain in cricket.”
Safety training programmes
Wearing protection against the heat and dust at Pearl GTL, Qatar
To overcome communication barriers, on-site training courses were given in seven languages including Hindi, Arabic, Tagalog and Thai. By early 2011 workers had followed some 367,500 training sessions in practical subjects such as working at heights.
All over the construction site posters of “Pearly” — a mascot shaped like a giant pearl with arms and legs that was developed to suit different cultures — reminded workers of safety rules.
In 2008 Shell launched a leadership training course for supervisors on the site to learn how to work safely and encourage others to do so. More than 5,000 completed the nine-day course which was certified by the Institute of Leadership Management in London.
”It's special for them as well, having a certificate they can carry with them after the project,” says Sheikh Thani al-Thani, Deputy General Manager Pearl GTL.
Employees ran a high risk of being injured in traffic accidents. In part this was due to harsh desert weather with dust clouds in summer and speeding drivers on the roads.
But by the peak of construction in 2010 Pearl GTL had transported people and equipment over almost 300 million kilometres without serious injury.
By driving staff from Doha to the industrial zone of Ras Laffan by bus, Shell saved an estimated 40 million kilometres of potential travel in passenger cars and reduced the risk by lowering the number of vehicles on the road.
The maximum speed at the plant site is 30 kilometres an hour. Shell introduced an in-vehicle monitoring system in 2006 that detects speeding, abrupt breaking or when a car is idling. Drivers cannot start cars without inserting their personal monitoring tags into a slot next to the ignition.
The chip sounds an alarm if drivers break safe-driving rules. If they persist they risk a warning, or at worst losing their job. It is in use in all of Shell’s 5,000 cars, pickup trucks and lorries on the project.
At first contractors were against it. When they realised it could lower fuel use — in one reported case by around 10% — reduce the number of breakdowns, and lower tyre wear, they were happy to do so, and even introduced it on their other projects.
Shell also introduced an initiative to encourage the use of seat belts among students in Qatar not connected to Pearl. Some 1,500 students participate each year.