Construction worker Humayan, aged 31, is from Comilla in Bangladesh. With few job opportunities in his own country, he joined the hundreds of thousands of mobile workers who are deployed to major building projects across the world. He travelled to Malaysia to spend two years with the 1,500-strong workforce upgrading the Shell Port Dickson refinery with project Hijau.*

“Leaving home is never easy,” says Humayan. “But the benefits make the travel worthwhile.”

Shell employee in Chinese traditional costume
Cham Chi Seung, Shell maintenance engineer, celebrates Chinese New Year

A second home

Humayan’s fellow workers came from Malaysia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Indonesia, India, the Philippines, Thailand and mainland China

“The diversity of the workforce was a major challenge,” says Ashfaque Ahmed, Project Manager Hijau. “But we managed to create a real community with a common approach to safety and care.”

On site, leaders launched a programme called AAA: Abang, Ahiyan, Anna, which means “brothers” in Malay, Chinese and Tamil. Theatre plays, posters and daily meetings promoted the importance of family and encouraged workers to treat each other as brothers.

Three separate canteens served Indian, Malay and Chinese food. Project leaders and contract workers ate together, contributing to a strong sense of community. A special committee, including representatives from Shell and contractors, regularly monitored the quality of food and received menu suggestions from workers.

“We really enjoyed the meals,” says Humayan. “And we had more pay to send home because we didn’t need to buy our own food.”

Air-conditioned buses brought workers on site and this service, combined with meal provision on site, freed up more rest time for workers. Across the site conveniently placed water stations were designed to keep everyone well hydrated.

Staying safe

Ensuring that all employees and contractors go home safely at the end of the day is Shell’s top priority. A set of strict rules and procedures, from wearing the right clothing to monitoring every piece of moving equipment, was designed to protect workers.

“Some Shell standards were tough for us to meet at the start,” says Mr Han Peng, owner of the project civil contractor TBK. “But we learned to adapt.”

At 7am every morning everyone on the project attended a safety talk, which highlighted a different aspect of safety. These included a worker demonstrating how to stay safe at height or in a confined space. People from Shell provided training exercises to help embed a safety culture in which everyone takes individual responsibility.

Thanks to the methods adopted on site, the refinery upgrade – which involved over 1,000 days of work – was completed with no time lost due to injury. And the considered approach to worker welfare continues to spread.

“What I saw was totally new for me: it clearly made workers more focused and more productive,” says Mr Han Peng. “I am using the same methods on other projects – Shell has set a very good example for the industry.”

Food stalls at Pearl Village, Qatar

Village success

When projects require an even larger workforce, Shell builds dedicated accommodation. The Pearl GTL project in Qatar brought together a total of 52,000 workers from more than 50 countries to build the world’s largest gas-to-liquids plant. They stayed in Pearl village, a specially created 170-acre residential area housing up to 40,000 people at a time.

Its facilities included sports fields, an outdoor cinema, food stalls, shops and Internet cafes, as well as a training centre to develop new skills. These provisions helped the project to achieve an impressive safety record in 2010 of 77 million hours without an injury leading to time off work.

Projects like Hijau* and Pearl inspired Shell to establish a set of three worker welfare and accommodation guides, designed by experts and business leaders within and outside the company. The guides provide detailed recommendations on 14 aspects of worker welfare, including a safe, healthy and social environment, quality sleep and contact with home. Steps are also being taken to adapt these guides to small-scale construction sites. This approach will also help to attract and retain top workers.

*The Hijau project upgraded facilities at the Port Dickson refinery in Malaysia, allowing it to process a range of crude oils into liquid fuels that meet new legislative requirements on sulphur levels.

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