Leader interview

Waddah Ghanem, Emirates National Oil Company

The executive head of OSH at Dubai's state oil producer talks about resilient systems, promoting happiness and fighting forecourt fires.

Waddah Ghanem
Pictures: Alex Jeffries

“One of the things I feel privileged about,” says Dr Waddah Shihab Ghanem Al Hashemi, “is that I work for an organisation that is diversified - it takes oil out of the ground, refines it, shifts it in pipelines and road wagons, but also sells a lot of hotdogs.”

The executive director of environment, health, safety, security, quality and corporate affairs at the government-owned ENOC Group has a remit to set the direction in OSH for a group of businesses that has diversified beyond its origins in the 1970s transporting liquefied petroleum gas from Dubai to Bahrain. The group’s 30-plus subsidiaries (see box below) now join up all the links in the oil and gas supply chain, plus a thriving retail business that has grown beyond the petrol station forecourts. And that takes Ghanem and his OSH function into new areas of risk control.

“I was talking to the executive committee–all the heads of our business and the group CEO,” he says, “and I asked them, ‘Which of our businesses has the highest risk of a work fatality?’ Some said it must be the refining, others that it must be the drivers of our heavy trucks. I said, the highest risk of a fatality is in our pizza business, because you have 35 delivery guys who get on motorbikes and ride round Dubai and a lot of people, regrettably, face serious injury in motorbike accidents. Plus the fact that these guys are delivering to areas in Dubai that are newly developed so they don’t always know the neighbourhoods well.

Waddah Ghanem career file

2015 – present, Executive director, EHSSQ and corporate affairs, Emirates National Oil Company

2009 – 2015, EHSQ compliance director, Emirates National Oil Company

"So we manage our risks of serious injury by exploring with our EHS people what they are and how to control them.”

He offers another example of a hazard in ENOC’s retail garage network that industry outsiders would never predict.

“We had 60 small to medium fires in our retail network in 2017 and 62 in 2016. We have a network of around 120 retail sites, so that’s a fire in every other station.”

The majority of these fires are from customer vehicles overheating, he says, particularly in June, July and August when temperatures in the Emirates peak above 45°C.

Waddah Ghanem Emirates National Oil Company“I don’t know why, but a customer’s car overheats and catches fire so he decides to drive it to the petrol station,” he says. “I think it’s because they think there will be extinguishers at the petrol station, but our people have to deal with these incidents. We can’t remove the risk because we can’t control the customers’ cars.

A less common cause of conflagration is from fuel overflows from vehicle tanks. “We have had a couple of incidents where the drivers have put the nozzle in the tank, put it on automatic and the nozzle has slipped out but the auto shut-off hasn’t triggered.”

Fires in the stations present serious risk Since the garages because of the number of employees working in them, from forecourt staff to those serving in fast-food outlets, plus a heavy public presence.

Previously the stations have had to call in civil defence support in a few cases “which means that fire would have gone on for at least 10 minutes”, but in the past two years staff on the forecourts have extinguished all the fires quickly without resort to the emergency services and without injury.

I don’t know why, but a customer’s car overheats and catches fire so he decides to drive it to the petrol station

“Our staff are trained in fire response and the supervisors are trained in evacuation procedures, and we have refresher training at the beginning of the year” he says. “But to have 100% controlled by our staff is very good.”

Risk coupling

In the scheme of things

Dr Waddah Shihab Ghanem Al Hashemi is executive director, environment, health, safety, security, quality and corporate affairs at the Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC). He is part of the executive committee and reports to the group CEO.
Ghanem heads one of three central group functions; the others are finance and strategy and shared services.
Away from the group centre the rest of ENOC's workforce of 8,500 are employed by more than 30 companies grouped in five business units: retail operations, marketing (which includes aviation and liquefied petroleum gas), an upstream oil and gas division extracting hydrocarbons, the supply, trading and processing, which includes oil refining and petrochemicals and trading operations in London, Singapore and Dubai and the Horizon Terminals group which is responsible for oil and chemicals storage and transport and is spread through many countries.
Ghanem sets the strategy for safety and health management in these divisions. One of his direct reports is the environment, health and safety (EHS) director who is in turn responsible for around 70 EHS staff, either generalists in the divisions or specialists in topics such as fire or maritime safety.
His other reports include the group general counsel, the head of business excellence and quality, the head of communications, the security and risk management head and the group sustainability officer.
He is responsible for most aspects of corporate governance apart from the financial ones which are overseen by a separate function that reports directly to the group’s audit committee and CEO.
“When people ask me what is your main purpose in this organisation I say it’s to protect the company from itself,” he says. “Oil and gas is inherently a high-risk business and it’s my purpose to change it here from high-risk to high reliability.”

Ghanem says ENOC’s management of safety has matured since he joined in 1998, as has that of the whole oil and gas industry. The greater emphasis on near-miss reporting has generated more opportunities for the organisation to learn from mistakes without injury, for example.

In the past five years the industry has refocused its attention on process safety management, “looking at loss of primary containment, explosion, gas releases, things that can have a big impact on the organisation and lead to serious injuries.”

I say that it may prompt an intake of breath to those outside the sector that these hazards ever fell off the top of the list of priorities, though the reports into major incidents from Buncefield oil storage terminal explosion in the UK to the BP Texas City refinery blast in the US have made it clear that in the past decade they did.

He says that in most of the industry it is not so much that fundamental process safety was ever ignored in favour of lesser hazards but that the understanding of the interrelatedness of risks has developed.

“I did a lot of research about this for my doctorate,” he says. “In the past the industry looked at system reliability mainly as a function of the individual risks. So you took the risks and you ranked them.

“It was a very binary approach to risk management so, for example, if you look at a loading rack [for filling petrol tankers] you ask ‘is there spill containment? Is there a Scully system to stop static electricity?’ and say ‘this is how we are mitigating those risks’.

“More recently, because plants and technology has become so much more complex, there is a much tighter coupling between these risks, so there is a relationship between them.

“So we have moved away from that binary approach to something called high-reliability theory, where you look at the overall reliability of a system, taking into account its failure rate and how it links to other systems with other levels of risk.

“Then you add the human factors, so if you have a plant with an operator trying to manage the alarms, because these systems are so tightly linked and production rates are much faster, cognitively the operator has to make many decisions; that compounds the risk.

“High-reliability theory tries to understand better how you can design something from first principles that eliminates many of the risks in these more complex systems.”

On the road

Waddah-Ghanem-Emirates-National-Oil-Company-expressiveAs with many organisations running distribution networks, road risk is a priority area. The last annual report notes that in 2016 the group recorded 37.5 million work hours on the road and its trucks, tankers and hired vehicles covered more than 10 million kilometres with no casualties.

In 2017 two tankers overturned, Ghanem says, one during a turn with a change in gradient on a temporary bypass road and another on a roundabout.

“The drivers were not harmed,” he notes. “We have interlocked the seatbelts with the [engine] starter.”

The drivers have individual electronic keys which identify them as permitted to drive the tankers and the vehicles are fitted with telematics systems that monitor their location, acceleration, speed, braking and other driving parameters.

“We are now trialling a camera system that monitors the driver and, if he starts dozing, it triggers an alert to make sure he stays awake,” he says.

ENOC’s overall lost-time injury rate, measured as incidents that resulted in a lost work day, was 0.37 per million hours in 2017, down from 0.4 the previous year.

Following Eric Hollnagel’s “Safety II” approach of focusing on positive inputs to improve safety, Ghanem introduced a series of key performance metrics based on leading indicators at the start of 2016.

The “proactive indicators”, which form the basis of a continuous improvement programme, include active engagement by senior managers, inspection and audit findings followed up on time, emergency drills, training hours, employee health check-ups and EHS campaigns. The targets for all these were exceeded in 2016 and 2017.

I have to look at the issues they bring and break them down and try to resist going to my natural way of thinking which is extremely structured

“We wanted to get the leadership more engaged and take more ownership for safety in the field,” says Ghanem. “Our EHS people facilitated things but these activities would be put together by the business leaders.

“We told them safety is not all about trying to report things after the fact. We know that if you are visible that should have a positive impact. It won’t eliminate incidents but it will at least show you have done your bit engaging with the workforce and taking a personal interest in safety.”

The proactive indicators now form part of the directors’ performance measures and Ghanem says they have responded positively.

Another recent innovation was an integrated audit protocol. “Over the past ten years there have been so many different systems and certifications and auditing takes a lot of time and energy for the auditor and the auditee.”

To make things easier on the business they developed a system of combining OSH, environment and quality audits, a little like utility companies coordinating to minimise the number of times they need to dig up the same stretch of road. “So now it’s once or twice a year rather than six or seven times."

Get happy

In 2016 the UAE government appointed a minister of state for happiness. The same year ENOC rebranded its wellbeing promotion and stress management initiative “The Happiness Story” to align with the public sector message.

“Happiness for us is a combination of three things,” says Ghanem. “Employee engagement results is one – if people are engaged they are generally quite happy. We are also looking at the feedback that we get from our wellness and social activities programme. We also have our own occupational health services centre and we have qualitative discussions with the team there about stress levels.”

Waddah-Ghanem-Emirates-National-Oil-Company-smilingHe says the latter discussions have focused on trying to measure what proportion of the employees reporting to occupational health staff with stomach cramps or shoulder tension have stress-related conditions.

The company compiles a happiness index based on a biannual independent survey by polling organisation Gallup. “We’ve just done one and there was a very slight drop, which I think was to do with changes in the organisation.”

I ask whether any increase in stress could be attributed to the fact the oil price has fallen so much over recent years. Crude oil, which traded around $100 a barrel (£72) for the first four years of this decade, dipped below $30 (£21.5) at the start of 2016 and is now around $65 (£47). No, he says, because, though the upstream business (extracting crude oil) may take a knock when the price falls, the group does not suffer because there is a corresponding increase in business for its downstream refining and trading arms.

The wellness and social activities programme that forms the middle strand of the happiness initiative includes a basketball league in which 16 teams compete, a paintball competition with 18 teams of 10 people, as well cricket and tennis tournaments. “There’s about 15 different sports,” says Ghanem.

During the month of Ramadan, when fasting employees are allowed to work reduced hours, the company arranges for Islamic scholars to visit its sites and give lectures. In Ramadan ENOC also sponsors food tents operated by the Red Crescent Society for people to gather at iftar, the communal breaking of the fast after sunset.

The Women Committee runs programmes to encourage female employees to maintain a good work-life balance. ENOC is sponsoring the first Women in Energy Awards due to be held later this year for which nominations close at the end of May and which features categories including Best Woman Entrepreneur and Best Young Woman Leader.

Lateral shift

Ghanem’s LinkedIn profile describes him as “an effective lateral thinker”. He says that capacity has been tested in the past two years by his larger corporate role which encompasses corporate communications.

Waddah-Ghanem-Emirates-National-Oil-Company-sitting-at-desk“When you are dealing with EHS, which is your core competence, you have knowledge and experience. But I have to deal with the head of group communications who has a very different background from me and with the group legal director, our general counsel, who thinks differently. So problem solving with them requires lateral thinking because I’m not a specialist in those areas.

“I have to look at the issues they bring and break them down and try to resist going to my natural way of thinking which is extremely structured, engineering a solution and assuming it will work because it’s logical. When you are dealing with someone who is creative or who is a legal adviser they might not look at it that way.”

His first qualification was a degree in environmental science from the University of Wales. That was followed by a spell as a consultant during which he worked with ENOC’s oil refining business, building and commissioning a refinery, before joining the company and finally moving to the Dubai head office in 2002.

He gained a postgraduate diploma in safety and health and one in environment, followed by an environmental management MSc.

“ENOC had a consortium agreement with various other organisations in Dubai, such as Emirates Airlines, to fund the executive MBA (Masters of Business Administration) programme at Bradford School of Management [in West Yorkshire, England],” he says. “So I was nominated to attend that because I was going into management rather than just being in technical roles.”

His MBA thesis was on organisational behaviour, and how leadership influences safety culture. There is an obvious parallel in his emphasis on visible safety leadership by the heads of ENOC’s operating companies.

Does the academic study feeds into his daily work in other ways. In fact, he says, the structured, calm study of an aspect of business from a distance that the MBA – which he followed up with a doctorate in corporate governance - afforded him, is very different from practice on the ground, where the interplay of different factors and influences cannot be ignored.

Perspective shift

When he was promoted from EHS director to his current executive post various people in the organisation congratulated him.

“The EHS team was very happy, some even more happy than I was,” he recalls. “They said this is a sort of victory to us. It’s refreshing to know that an EHS person was chosen for an executive role.

He says it’s not surprising that many of the people who are appointed to board level roles have legal or accountancy or business administration backgrounds, “because birds of a feather flock together” and because they believe it is easier to achieve common cause with people who have a similar outlook. “But it increases the chance of ‘group think’, which is not a good thing.”

He received wise advice from his father about his natural nervousness about moving up to a broader corporate role.

“He said ‘I can understand why you are a little anxious. You are an EHS person, you graduated as an environmental engineer and you’ve been working in this field, that’s your comfort zone. But you have to think positively. In a higher position in the organisation you have the chance to make a bigger impact. You can help resolve many of the organisational issues that lead to EHS problems’. I took that advice.”

Ghanem shares the belief expressed by APM Terminals safety head Kevin Furniss in last month’s issue and others before him, that OSH practitioners achieve more the better they understand the language and function of business more generally: “You have to understand how things really work as opposed to just the best theoretical way of approaching challenges.”

He has gone as far as to co-author a book on the subject: The Ten-Step MBA for Health and Safety Practitioners (Routledge) – written with Rob Cooling, EHSQ director for Dubai’s Expo 2020 – extracts from which were published in these pages in 2016 (bit.ly/2nA1UJs)

In total he has co-written six management books since 2010, including one on reflective learning with the chief executive of the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health, Theresa Budworth. These are supplemented by books on Islamic theology written with his father, Dr Shihab Ghanem, a respected author in his own right.

I ask how he finds the time to write alongside family life and wide-ranging responsibilities at work.

“You make the time,” he says. “But also in the days before the internet it was difficult because you had to go to the library and read and copy pages. Today it’s easier, especially if you are able to synthesise information quickly. But you need passion. You need to have a real interest in what you are reading and writing about.

“All my books except the last one have been co-authored and I really enjoy working with other people and exchanging ideas. Those dialogues are very enriching and rewarding. It’s also very fulfilling when the result is published.”

He adds that in Islam there are three things that continue as good deeds to an individual’s credit after they die.

“One is to have children and grandchildren who will pray for you; another is to have done some charitable work, built an orphanage or school that perpetuates good in society,” he says. “And the third is to leave knowledge behind to the next generation. Novelists and people who write comic books add value to society because they make people happy. But this is serious knowledge which, inshallah, could prevent loss of life. What better deed can I do?”



Louis Wustemann is former editor, IOSH Magazine. He was previously editor of Health and Safety at Work magazine and Environment in Business. He has written, edited and consulted on health and safety, environmental and employment matters for more than 25 years.

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