Evolution of safety clothing and equipment in the energy sector
The frontline professionals in the energy sector are exposed to numerous life-threating activities and hazards. Danger lurks around every corner, right from working in well foundations, to erecting lease tanks to chemical treatments or hydraulic fracturing wells. Even in the presumably safe environments like refineries, certain activities pose threats like process sampling, handling or recharging catalyst or inspection. Also, the off-shore drilling offers risk due to hydrogen sulfide gas, use of heavy metals and the presence of benzene in the crude. Even during shutdowns and repairs, the risk is high. The workers are also exposed to fires and flames and hence require comprehensive safety measures and equipment to work without risk.
Evolution of Personal Protective Equipment
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), is referred to the equipment that is worn by workers to minimize the exposure to workplace related hazards and injuries. It includes but is not limited to respirators, hard hats, gloves, safety harnesses, safety glasses, earplugs, bodysuits, and steel-toed shoes. During the industrial revolution, the PPE was put in place to minimize the workplace injuries. However, with time it has become more efficient at protecting the overall well-being of the workforce. So, let us track the evolution of some key safety equipment and clothing in the energy sector over the period:
· Back in the 1900s, industrial workers used hemp or natural fiber body belt to protect from injuries. However, these belts did not have shock-absorption properties.
· In 1959, shock absorption property was incorporated into the safety belts. This helped the workers to reduce or eliminate injury caused due to fall.
· In the 1990s, there were more improvements such as snap hook connectors, D-rings, and full-body harness. It transformed the fall prevention system for better
· As per the article published in Occupational Health & Safety (OHS) magazine, the gold miners created the bowler hat to protect themselves from the debris that falls while working in the mines. It had rounded brims and hard exterior, while the interior was stuffed with cotton.
· The Golden Gate Bridge project is considered as the first major project that made it compulsory for all the workers to wear a hard hat. The hat was crafted using canvas and it had an internal suspension system.
· After some time, an aluminum hat was introduced but was soon discontinued due to its side-effects: corroding and electricity conduction.
· In 1950’s thermoplastic was used to construct hat; these hats were easily molded and hence uniformity in the hats was introduced. Hard hat has not been improved much, however additional accessories like earplugs or Bluetooth technology has been introduced to enhance the comfort level.
· Roman Empire created the first respirator which was made out of the animal bladder and was used by the miners to prevent inhalation of iron oxide dust.
· In the middle of the 1800s, the charcoal gas filter mask was introduced. After two decades it was further improved and was known as “fireman’s respirator.” But, the respirators were not widely accepted until 1900.
· In the 1970s, the safety equipment manufacturers created Powered Air Purifying Respirators (PAPR) which comprised of a blower and filter inside a helmet. It was widely used in the areas where the face and eye contamination were the concern.
· However, most respirator even today use simple technology that helps in respiration. PAPR is still in the growing stage.
· Do you know the earliest reference to the earplugs were found in Greek Drama, The Odyssey? During those times, it was used to block the songs of the siren. The sailors used beeswax as earplugs.
· In the early 1900s, earplugs were used in the densely populated neighborhood and was made of cotton and wax. These benefits were then marketed to the industry.
· In the 1960s, foams were used to make earplugs and after a decade, polyurethane was used.
· Some years later, the thermal plastic elastomer was used as it was easier to shape the earplugs and it offered better comfort and fit.
· In the recent years, numerous technological advancements have been made with noise cancellation technology, mic, recorders and extra grip earplugs. The idea is to encourage workers to use it to eliminate any chance of hearing impairment.
· Safety glasses were first introduced by a tribe in Alaska which used it to prevent snow blindness. Later, this idea was adopted, and the safety glasses were used to protect the eyes from various contaminants such as dust, splashes, heat, glare, and wind.
· In the energy sector, the workers are expected to wear it full-time. Now, it has been aesthetically designed to make it more fashionable. Even the prescription-based safety glasses have been introduced. Just by wearing glasses, a lot of vision-related injuries can be avoided.
Since the mid-20th century, safety clothing and equipment have evolved significantly. The standardization and safety policies have also helped in encouraging workers to use the PPE which in turn has helped in reducing the rate of injuries and illness at the workplace.
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International expansions for Saudi Aramco – the largest oil company in the world – are not uncommon. But up to this point, those expansions have followed a certain logic: to create entrenched demand for Saudi crude in the world’s largest consuming markets. But Saudi champion’s latest expansion move defies, or perhaps, changes that logic, as Aramco returns to Europe. And not just any part of Europe, but Eastern Europe – an area of the world dominated by Russia – as Saudi Aramco acquires downstream assets from Poland’s PKN Orlen and signs quite a significant crude supply deal. How is this important? Let us examine.
First, the deal itself and its history. As part of the current Polish government’s plan to strengthen its national ‘crown jewels’ in line with its more nationalistic stance, state energy firm PKN Orlen announced plans to purchase its fellow Polish rival (and also state-owned) Grupa Lotos. The outright purchase fell afoul of EU anti-competition rules, which meant that PKN Orlen had to divest some Lotos assets in order to win approval of the deal. Some of the Lotos assets – including 417 fuel stations – are being sold to Hungary’s MOL, which will also sign a long-term fuel supply agreement with PKN Orlen for the newly-acquired sites, while PKN Orlen will gain fuel retail assets in Hungary and Slovakia as part of the deal. But, more interestingly, PKN Orlen has chosen to sell a 30% stake in the Lotos Gdansk refinery in Poland (with a crude processing capacity of 210,000 bd) to Saudi Aramco, alongside a stake in a fuel logistic subsidiary and jet fuel joint venture supply arrangement between Lotos and BP. In return, PKN Orlen will also sign a long-term contract to purchase between 200,000-337,000 b/d of crude from Aramco, which is an addition to the current contract for 100,000 b/d of Saudi crude that already exists. At a maximum, that figure will cover more than half of Poland’s crude oil requirements, but PKN Orlen has also said that it plans to direct some of that new supply to several of its other refineries elsewhere in Lithuania and the Czech Republic.
For Saudi Aramco, this is very interesting. While Aramco has always been a presence in Europe as a major crude supplier, its expansion plans over the past decade have been focused elsewhere. In the US, where it acquired full ownership of the Motiva joint venture from Shell in 2017. In doing so, it acquired control of Port Arthur, the largest refinery in North America, and has been on a petrochemicals-focused expansion since. In Asia, where Aramco has been busy creating significant nodes for its crude – in China, in India and in Malaysia (to serve the Southeast Asia and facilitate trade). And at home, where the focus has on expanding refining and petrochemical capacity, and strengthen its natural gas position. So this expansion in Europe – a mature market with a low ceiling for growth, even in Eastern Europe, is interesting. Why Poland, and not East or southern Africa? The answer seems fairly obvious: Russia.
The current era of relatively peaceful cooperation between Saudi Arabia and Russia in the oil sphere is recent. Very recent. It was not too long ago that Saudi Arabia and Russia were locked in a crude price war, which had devastating consequences, and ultimately led to the détente through OPEC+ that presaged an unprecedented supply control deal. That was through necessity, as the world faced the far ranging impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. But remove that lens of cooperation, and Saudi Arabia and Russia are actual rivals. With the current supply easing strategy through OPEC+ gradually coming to an end, this could remove the need for the that club (by say 2H 2022). And with Russia not being part of OPEC itself – where Saudi Arabia is the kingpin – cooperation is no longer necessary once the world returns to normality.
So the Polish deal is canny. In a statement, Aramco stated that ‘the investments will widen (our) presence in the European downstream sector and further expand (our) crude imports into Poland, which aligns with PKN Orlen’s strategy of diversifying its energy supplies’. Which hints at the other geopolitical aspect in play. Europe’s major reliance on Russia for its crude and natural gas has been a minefield – see the recent price chaos in the European natural gas markets – and countries that were formally under the Soviet sphere of influence have been trying to wean themselves off reliance from a politically unpredictable neighbour. Poland’s current disillusion with EU membership (at least from the ruling party) are well-documented, but its entanglement with Russia is existential. The Cold War is not more than 30 years gone.
For Saudi Aramco, the move aligns with its desire to optimise export sales from its Red Sea-facing terminals Yanbu, Jeddah, Shuqaiq and Rabigh, which have closer access to Europe through the Suez Canal. It is for the same reason that Aramco’s trading subsidiary ATC recently signed a deal with German refiner/trader Klesch Group for a 3-year supply of 110,000 b/d crude. It would seem that Saudi Arabia is anticipating an eventual end to the OPEC+ era of cooperative and a return to rivalry. And in a rivalry, that means having to make power moves. The PKN Orlen deal is a power move, since it brings Aramco squarely in Russia’s backyard, directly displacing Russian market share. Not just in Poland, but in other markets as well. And with a geopolitical situation that is fragile – see the recent tensions about Russian military build-up at the Ukrainian borders – that plays into Aramco’s hands. European sales make up only a fraction of the daily flotilla of Saudi crude to enters international markets, but even though European consumption is in structural decline, there are still volumes required.
How will Russia react? Politically, it is on the backfoot, but its entrenched positions in Europe allows it to hold plenty of sway. European reservations about the Putin administration and climate change goals do not detract from commercial reality that Europe needs energy now. The debate of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline is proof of that. Russian crude freed up from being directed to Eastern Europe means a surplus to sell elsewhere. Which means that Russia will be looking at deals with other countries and refiners, possibly in markets with Aramco is dominant. That level of tension won’t be seen for a while – these deals takes months and years to complete – but we can certainly expect that agitation to be reflected in upcoming OPEC+ discussions. The club recently endorsed another expected 400,000 b/d of supply easing for January. Reading the tea leaves – of which the PKN Orlen is one – makes it sound like there will not be much more cooperation beyond April, once the supply deal is anticipated to end.
End of Article
- Crude price trading range: Brent – US$86-88/b, WTI – US$84-86/b
- Crude oil benchmarks globally continue their gain streak for a fifth week, as the market bounces back from the lows seen in early December as the threat of the Omicron virus variant fades and signs point to tightening balances on strong consumption
- This could set the stage for US$100/b oil by midyear – as predicted by several key analysts – as consumption rebounds ahead of summer travel and OPEC+ remains locked into its gradual consumption easing schedule
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