SPEECH: HazardEx 2020 - Stephen Marcos Jones

The role of digitalisation in improving downstream efficiencies and safety

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen 

I’m honoured to have the chance to share my thoughts with you   

On a topic that may sound far-fetched, geeky or complicated to some 

But which I suspect in time will be seen as essential. 


It’s one of the great ironies of our age 

We live in a world that depends on science and technology  

But hardly any of us really knows anything  

About science and technology 


Our society’s total dependence on the Internet  

…And its related technologies…  

…Is unprecedented   

We use these incredible, smart devices 

But very few of us really understand how they work  

More importantly 

Most of us don’t really think about how we might use technologies better… 

We have the processes and we have the hardware 

But do we have the imagination and the willingness to use them? 

I was speaking with Alan of HazardEx for an article last year when we also agreed I’d speak at this conference.  

In that article I was talking about my company’s – UKPIA’s – Future Vision for the downstream oil sector 

That Vision takes into account huge changes that we think might happen across our sector 

The Vision talks about the whole sector, but at this HazardEx event it is always interesting to talk about the importance of health and safety. 

The Future of our sector is one that will always deal with hazards and risks but new technologies and methodologies can add to existing expertise to continue to improve products, processes, and the safety of our people. 

Today I want to keep that focus on the future, our vision. 

But to say that technologieare around today 

That could deliver much of that Vision 

And deliver an improved working environment for us all today. 



 It’s the number one issue in the energy industry 

Even during the days of the First Industrial Revolution 

Innovative approaches were used to improve safety.   

Back then, in the days of King Coal, miners would take a canary down the coal mine to warn of dangerous gas build-ups. 

The canary didn’t sing its warning - it merely fell off its perch. 

Miners would also use Davy Lamps, a phenomenal advance in safety techniques as previous lamps tended to ignite coal gas and cause explosions.  

Now, today in the white heat of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, we still have the canary 

But it’s the digital version 

These days the canary might be a wearable digital sensor connected to an operating station in real time. 

That is the beauty of using technology to improve safety: 

It’s good for humans and canaries alike 

Unsafe manual labour tasks are now performed by machines 

Contaminated areas are investigated by detection sensors, before humans enter them 

Workers’ biometrics can be monitored digitally - Alerting them -Before they become dangerously mentally or physically fatigued - reducing workplace accidents - saving lives  - stopping innocent caged birds getting concussions. 

Digital technologies like these - And many others - Have the potential to transform safety in our industry 

Digital technology is disruptive and game-changing 

But this isn’t a purely tech solution  

It’s about behaviour as much as bits of kit 

It is only as good as the people 

And the organisations using it  

Steve Jobs – the legendary and visionary founder of Apple – put it well” 

“It’s not the tools you have faith in - tools are just tools  

They work, or they don’t work.  

It’s the people you have faith in or not”  

So, in order to embrace digital 

On which depends - Our future safety, sustainability and profitability 

We require no less than a revolution in our thinking 

In a sector where we, daily, handle millions of litres of dangerous, even explosive materials, constant questioning of our selves might include: 

  • Can I do this differently? 
  • Can I do this more safely? 

But a change in culture might also ask the questions: 

  • Do I have to do this? 
  • Can I take myself out of this risky environment? 


The answer, in short, can be yes. 

But only if we get things right. Whether that be new assets with which to do our jobs or using digital data differently.  

First to the big one, the one that newspapers and TED talks love to speak about. 


If we get AI right, we can look forward to greatly increased productivity, huge cost savings and much greater safety.  

Productivity by finding efficiencies across almost everything we do.  

Automating that order for new PPE, savings managers time with online shift management or helping us communicate better across the site to make quicker decisions. 

Saving Costs through those kind of efficiencies I just mentioned, but also using data even more ambitiously. 

I read a sales pitch by the Boston Consultancy Group – BCG - about how for some clients they are building digital clones of refineries. 

So more than today’s modelling software that might optimise your yield for a day 

Actually being able to run a complex simulation of your refinery without the expense and risk of something going wrong ‘in real life’. 

Their customers are using it to test compatibility of new crudes – increasing flexibility, increasing options on how to run your kit, quickly and with no detriment to your everyday business. 

The third benefit was around safety.  

I’ll draw out some downstream specific examples in a little while but in this room and in those back at our companies, improvements in safety are surely the biggest benefit we can derive in almost any advancement. 

Before I get to that, I also want to take a moment to talk about the disbenefits, the risks, the justified nervousness that arises whenever we talk about this bold new digital frontier. 

Of course not all changes are good – indeed we work in an industry that while changing all the time really doesn’t change all that much in some other ways. 

We should all bear in mind  

That technology may destroy certain jobs  

But it does not destroy work 

New technologies create many more jobs than they destroy. 

And lots of those new jobs are in occupations that can’t be predicted  

In 1901, in England and Wales, 200,000 people were in full-time employment 

Their occupation? 

Washing clothes 

By 2011, just 35,000 people worked in the sector, despite the population doubling 

In 1971 there were 120,000 full-time telephonist and switchboard operators 

By 2011 that had reduced to 20,000 and has fallen further 

Thanks to the internet, mobile phones and automated switchboards 

Technology removed drudgery 

But the Institute for the Future  

Estimates that 85% of jobs that will exist in 2030  

Haven’t been invented yet 

The World Economic Forum has crunched the numbers 

Its Future of Jobs Report predicts that  

75 million jobs may be lost by a shift to automation 

But 133 million new jobs will be created by 2022  

But, of course, it’s the culture and the attitudes that will determine success 

The latest global Edelmann Trust Barometer Report 

Has some revelations in this area 

I’d like to do a quick quiz 

To get a sense of how we in this auditorium 

Feel about the revolution in digital technology 

How many of you agree with this statement? 

Technological innovations are happening too quickly and leading to changes that are not good for “people like me.”  

The Edelmann Trust Barometer found that nearly half of people – 47% 

Have that view 

So, the challenge for us all is not the technology it is actually using the technology to best effect 

I said earlier I’d share some examples of digital technologies being used 

Now, in our sector. 

Companies already asking what applications existing technologies can be used for?  

We will all remember the airport issues that arose from the use of unlicensed drones near major hubs last year which were covered in all the papers 

But who here has heard about the drones at Shell Haven Jet Fuel terminal? 

 Not many I suspect. 

 Well fair enough,  

But that’s probably because the media is fixated on disruption and delay. 

The Shell Haven example is actually that rare canary – a good news story. 

In the Thames Estuary, here in the UK, Shell is already using drones for marine jetty inspections 

 Taking that toy that your nephew got for Christmas just a couple of months ago and finding a use for it. 

 And this is not as a gimmick  

 They have reduced the time taken to complete inspections by 80%  

More importantly for those of use who care about our people, these drones removed 100% of working at height and working over water activities. 

It was very late last year that I heard about a man in our industry who very sadly lost his life as a result of slipping on a jetty and falling into freezing water in the Mersey. 

Clearly use of digital is at an early stage but what benefits if we can move our people away from dangerous locations on our site, yet still get the work done. 

There are other examples, that same Shell site is using robots for internal and external tank cleaning. 

Electromagnetic robots climb the outside of tanks to strip away old paint, by using robots for that job they have reduced this high-risk task for humans, with working from height activities by 95%.  

Inside tanks, high-risk confined space activities have been reduced by 85%. 

Ultimately the need to clean the inside of a tank where nobody knew what lay inside was what led to one of the worst industrial accidents in the UK in recent years in Pembroke back in 2011. 

These are tangible applications with existing technologiethat could help save lives, today. 

That is just the beginning – Shell think that they could push those numbers up to 100% for those activities.  

And using a robot inside a tank also opens up the idea that tank inspection and cleaning need not take that tank out of action. 

A submersible robotmoving around in a tank while ‘swimming’ in product could do inspections without the need to empty it. 

That one probably still needs a bit of workbut as I said earlier,  this is as much about pushing the boundaries of what we think digital technologies could do for us. 

We might scoff a little and say that these sort of technologies are only available to those with very deep pockets 

But I think there are simpler things that could work in our sector 

Things that don’t necessarily need a defence budget to procure. 

Who in the room has a GPS tracker with them? 

I’d be amazed if many of us don’t given they are in almost every phone.

While I don’t suggest for a minute that we want employees bringing phones onto site there are obvious benefits in being able to accurately know where the people we work with are on large, complex and dangerous sites. 

‘Connected worker’ technologies have a safety benefit, and by using digital technologies to better connect control rooms with those on the front line, we can improve: 

efficiency the time our maintenance works take and find other benefits that pay for themselves while ensuring the safety of our staff. 

I mentioned earlier that digital technologies can take away some of the more mundane activities.  

They may not be the big safety items, but they might free up time for more work in that space. 

One of UKPIA’s associate members is CLH – the Spanish pipeline operator. 

They too have some big ambitions to use digital in future  

But they also went public recently about Robotic Process Automation – or RPA 

Their lead on the project said: 

The idea is to automate tasks, not redesign processes, allowing people to dedicate more time to tasks of higher added value and leaving work that is repetitive and mechanical to the robot. 

Imagine that world where the mundane tasks are taken out of your day…. 

This is just the beginning. 

Our sector is one that has always monitored, systemised, learnt from previous experiences. 

All of those are facets of what the best use of digital technology looks like. 

New technologies will come and some will not be useful,  

But I think that if we can be creative 

In asking ourselves:  

  • what can be done better? 
  • what can be done automatically? 

Then we can make good use of digital. 

We can become more modern, safer, maybe even a more profitable sector. 

I hope these few examples have helped you think about the possibilities….  

Thank you. 

Share this
env name: production