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European downstream safety performance in 2021

08 November 2022

Earlier this year, the European downstream industry organisation Concawe published its latest report on the downstream oil industry’s safety performance. The report is a statistical summary of reported incidents in the industry during 2021. This article is based on selected sections of the report and provides comparisons with the industry’s safety performance over previous years.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

(Click here to view article in digital edition)

The 2021 annual report presents work-related personal injuries for the industry’s own employees and contractors and process safety performance indicators. Concawe said the statistical information in the report was gathered from 43 of its members and joint ventures (comprised of member companies), representing more than 98% of refining capacity in the EU-27, UK, Norway and Switzerland.

The term “downstream” represents all activities of the industry from receipt of crude oil to products sales, through refining, distribution, and retail. Companies collect data separately for “Manufacturing” (i.e., refining) and “Marketing” (i.e., distribution, retail and “head office” staff) and this split is applied throughout the report.

Concawe collects data and produces its annual report in order to provide member companies with a benchmark against which to compare their performance and so that they can determine the efficacy of their safety management systems, identify shortcomings, and take corrective actions.


In total, 556 million work hours were reported in 2021, around 2% higher than in 2020. During the year, there were six fatalities comprising three manufacturing staff, two manufacturing contractors, and one marketing contractor.

The three manufacturing staff fatalities occurred as a result of an explosion in a refinery unit with burning hydrocarbons. Concawe says the staff’s work activity at the time of the incident was unrelated to any permit to work.

The manufacturing contractor was fatally injured during a manual lifting activity with improper use of equipment. The contractor was observing the lift from above and was caught between a rope and a steel structure when the overhead pulley failed. The work activity of the contractor at the time of the event was related to standard work permit (without individual risk assessment).

The manufacturing contractor died ten days after receiving severe burns following renovation works under work permit inside the column of a shut-down installation using a specialised vacuum vehicle. Lastly, the marketing contractor was a tanker driver who died in a road accident.

The number of fatalities in 2021 is a significant increase from 2019 and 2020 which had three and two fatalities respectively.

Table 1 - Fatalities by sector 2012-2021

Lost workday injuries

A total of 513 Lost Workday Injuries (LWI) were recorded in 2021, with 61% of these in manufacturing and 39% in marketing. There was an overall increase in the Lost Workday Injury Frequency (LWIF) when compared with 2020 with the number rising from 0.88 LWI/Mh in 2020 to 0.93 LWI/Mh in 2021. Of the 36 companies which reported LWI in both 2020 and 2021, 15 (42%) reported a lower overall LWIF in 2021 than in 2020, two companies had the same LWIF in 2020 and 2021 (5%) and 19 companies (53%) had a higher LWIF in 2021.

As in 2020, manufacturing staff in 2021 is the sector with the highest LWIF (1.44 in 2021 and 1.37 in 2020). Marketing staff have the lowest recorded LWIF of all sectors in 2021 at 0.61.

Concawe’s report highlights that there was little to no difference between the frequency of LWIs and fatalities (LTIF) due to there being six fatalities in 2021 compared to 513 LWIs. Concawe says that the effective investigation of all incidents (near miss, minor and major) to obtain a full understanding of their root causes is therefore essential for the creation of a supportive safety culture and the fostering of the right organisational behaviours necessary to achieve zero incidents or accidents in operations.

There are a few categories which contribute to most reported LWIs. In order of frequency, these are Slips and Trips (same height), Struck by, Overexertion & Strain, and Cut, puncture, scrape – together accounting for over 56% of all LWIs reported in 2021.

Figure 1 – Causal factors recorded for all Lost Workday Injuries in 2021. Image: Concawe

Permit to work

In the 2021 report, for the first time, Concawe collected information about the type of permit to work (PTW) in place at the time of the event leading to fatality or LWI for the first time. The type of PTW was specified in 50% of reported LWI.

The highest assignment of PTW type was recorded for manufacturing contractors (66%) and the lowest was for marketing contractors (54%). Clear differences were noted between manufacturing own staff and contractors in the number of LWI related to full PTW required activities (31% of manufacturing contractor LWI, compared with 5% of manufacturing own staff LWI). In marketing the type of PTW did not differ greatly between own staff and contractors LWI.

Absent days

Another first in the 2021 report is the number of days absent from work for each LWI. The data shows that 66% of LWI (337) specified the number of days absence with a total of 10,526 days absence and a mean of 31 days absence per LWI. Manufacturing own staff and contractors were above this mean at 36 and 37 days lost per LWI respectively and marketing own staff and contractors at a mean of 26 and 22 days per LWI respectively.

Causal factors

As in previous years, Concawe also collected data on causal factors for each LWI which can be seen in Figure 1. These are described in alignment with API RP754 (2021) and multiple factors may be recorded per LWI. Causal factors were not available for 16% of LWI (84 LWI incidents) in 2021. Concawe notes that in many cases, the absence of causal factors reflects ongoing investigations.

The most commonly reported causal factors across all LWI are Human Factors (31% of causal factors reported), Safe Work Practices & Procedures (13%), Risk Assessment (12%), Knowledge and Skills (8%), Procedures (7%), and Design (6%). A total of 10% were listed as Other (used to specify where an incident cannot be logically classed under any other category). There was little difference between the most frequently reported causal factors in some of the most commonly occurring incident categories.

Figure 2 – Number of fatalities by incident category 2013-2021. Image: Concawe

Performance trends in the last 10 years

The main benefit of tracking performance indicators is that they provide the opportunity to identify trends and patterns over a certain period of time. When comparing the statistics from 2012-2021, it can be seen that the six fatalities in 2021 is the highest number of annual fatalities recorded in the sector since 2018 and is just above the ten-year average.

Since the organisation moved to reporting fatalities against the same 16 categories as Lost Workday Injury in 2013, ‘Explosions or Burns’ (17 fatalities), ‘Road Accident’ (eight fatalities) and ‘Struck by’ (six fatalities) have been the largest contributors to fatalities in the industry. Together, the three categories account for approximately 65% of the fatalities experienced in the industry since 2013.
As in fatalities, a limited number of categories contribute to most LWI. In 2021, almost 72% of LWIs were as a result of:

- Slips & Trips (same height)
- Struck by
- Cut, Puncture, Scrape
- Overexertion, strain
- Caught in, under or between

2021 saw the largest increases in LWI for the categories of ‘Cut, puncture, scrape’ (increase of 2.6% compared with 2013-2020 average reported annual figures) and exposure noise, chemical, biological and vibration (1.4% increase).

Concawe found no direct correlation between categories of LWI and fatalities in the period 2013-2021, however a focus on reducing LWI in the following areas may have the potential to address the causes of the majority of 31 fatalities recorded since 2013:

-  Process Safety to address Explosion, Burns related incidents
-  Operational safety focused on Working at Height
-  Road Accidents

Figure 3 – Number of Tier 1 and 2 Process Safety Events (Manufacturing and Marketing) reported in 2021 by Refining Process. Image: Concawe

Process safety

From Concawe’s 2009 report onwards, the organisation’s Safety Management Group expanded the scope of industry wide safety performance indicators to address process safety, following the reporting guidelines that were developed by the American Petroleum Institute (API). The API recommends the adoption of Process Safety Performance Indicators (PSPI) in addition to personal safety performance indicators in order to better address the potential causes of major process safety incidents.

The Concawe Membership has since provided the number of Tier 1 and 2 Process Safety Events (PSE) for each Concawe report. In 2021, of the 20 companies that reported PSE across both manufacturing and marketing, three companies reported zero Tier 1 events, two different companies reported zero Tier 2 events and two companies reported zero Tier 1 and Tier 2 events.

The total number of Tier 1 and Tier 2 process safety events reported at manufacturing sites where the higher process safety risks exist increased by 25 % in 2021 to 228 from 182 in 2020.

The ratio of Tier 1 to Tier 2 Manufacturing process safety events in 2021 is 0.49 (75 Tier 1 and 153 Tier 2). This is lower than the 2020 ratio of 0.52, but remains in the range of ratios recorded 2017 to 2020 (0.32-0.64).

The number of Tier 1 PSEs resulting in LWIs was reported for the first time in 2019. In 2020, Five Tier 1 PSE (7.6% of Tier 1 PSE) resulted in LWI. In 2021, 17 Tier 1 events (22% of all Tier 1 events) were associated with 17 LWI and three fatalities. This is a large increase in number of Tier 1 PSE related-injuries compared with 2020, when five Tier 1 PSE (7.6% of Tier 1 PSE in 2020) resulted in LWI. Nine LWI and three fatalities were categorised as “Explosion or burns” (direct contact with hot released material), four LWI were categorised as “Exposure, noise, chemical, biological, vibration” (direct contact with released material) and three LWI as “Pressure Release” (Failure of, or release of gas, liquid or object from a pressurised system). “Procedures” was cited the most commonly assigned causal factor (nine assignments) for these Tier 1 events leading to Explosion or Burns categories LWI and Fatalities. “Exposure, noise, chemical, biological, vibration” categorised Tier 1 with LWI were mostly associated with the causal factor “Safe working Practices or Procedures and the Tier 1 events with Pressure Release categorized LWI (three Tier 1 events) were associated with a variety of causal factors. Two of these three events were associated with the causal factor Risk Assessment.

Process safety events in 2021 most frequently occurred in storage facilities or transfer piping (29% of all Process Safety Events, 31% of Tier 1 PSE and 28% of Tier 2 PSE), see Figure 3 (two PSE Tier 1 and 16 Tier 2 PSE attributed to petrochemical processes are not included in Figure 3).

The report details that for Tier 1 events, 70% of process safety events occurred during normal operation and 82% of Tier 2 events occurred during normal operation. As in previous years, large bore piping remained the main point of release for process safety events (21% of all PSE in 2021, 30% of Tier 1 and 17% of Tier 2 events).

Equipment Reliability (allocated to 31% of events), Fixed Equipment Inspection (20%), Human Factors (19%) and Design (19%), are the most frequently cited causal factors across all process safety events in 2021. For Tier 1 events, the most frequently cited causal factors are Procedures (25%), Fixed Equipment Inspection (23%), Design (22%) and Risk Assessment (21%). Equipment Reliability was cited most frequently as a causal factor of Tier 2 events (allocated to 39% of Tier 2 PSE), Fixed Equipment Inspection (18%), Human Factors (18%) and Design (17%), were also cited. With Equipment Reliability cited most frequently as a causal factor for both Tier 1 and 2 process safety events and the aforementioned 25% rise in the total number of events since 2020, Concawe states that careful attention is required in this area.

To read Concawe’s 2021 ‘European downstream oil industry safety performance’ report in full, visit:

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