Natalie Salter on managing hazards with process safety

A Shell safety engineer talks about what happens when a potentially harmful event in oil and natural gas production takes place – a fire or an explosion.

These podcasts are part of a special series on safety in the oil and gas industry, made possible in part by Shell.

Natalie Salter: We get a certain period of time to react. And the training kicks in. We’ve run through drills. We go through all the different scenarios, and the adrenaline starts.

Natalie Salter is a safety engineer at Shell. She’s talking about what happens when a potentially harmful event in oil and natural gas production takes place – a fire or an explosion.

Natalie Salter: Your training kicks in, and you immediately start troubleshooting. What can we do, how can we do it, when do we say, enough is enough and we shut down safely.

Salter is an expert on what’s called “process safety” – preparing for the event before it happens. She said in some real-world situations, there might be forewarning of a threat, like a high temperature reading. In those cases, she said, the plant design triggers alarms that give precious time, sometimes hours, to shut things off and maintain control.

Natalie Salter: What it’s about is making sure that the design is correct, to incorporate all the safety aspects that we know of into the design of the equipment that we’re going to be putting out there. Then we also look at the operations of the facility. We want to make sure that the operators, the engineers, and the technicians that are using the equipment understand the operating limits, so that we don’t have any releases of the gasoline, petrol material that we’re passing through those pipes or pieces of equipment.

Salter talked about her job in process safety.

Natalie Salter: I’ve been working for Shell for 20 years, and I’ve been working within process safety for the last nine years. And it’s been the most rewarding job that I’ve ever had, and the least recognized. Because when you do your job well, you don’t have incidents. But that’s the important part to me. If I can keep one person from being hurt and can go home at the end of the day to their family, that’s reward enough for me. It’s always interesting, it’s always challenging. And for me, it’s one of the most important things I can do, just to keep people safe, to keep the hazards in the pipes where they belong, to make sure they don’t hurt the environment, really is what I love to do.

Our thanks today to Shell – encouraging dialogue on the energy challenge.

Jorge Salazar