Employee health and safe production are our priorities

Mikhail Ryazanov, Director of Function for HSE in NIS Company, for the Balkan Magazine portal


World Occupational Health and Safety Day is April 28. This year, the whole world is marking it faced with the pandemic of the coronavirus, which is threatening the health of workers, their families, but also the businesses operation of companies, as well as entire countries. How is NIS protected against COVID-19 infection?

The situation we are facing is, above all, a challenge when it comes to the health aspect. On the other hand, NIS is one of the most important energy companies in Serbia and we must maintain stability in the production, processing and distribution of petroleum products in order to continue to deliver to the citizens and state institutions the petroleum products necessary for the smooth functioning of the system. In these circumstances, this is not an easy task, it requires a lot of logistics, discipline, and personal courage, and I want to thank all NIS employees who have contributed to our work being carried out continuously and who are among the “silent” heroes of the combat against epidemic in Serbia.

Working in such a challenging situation is possible only with the implementation of all preventive measures, and the basic prerequisite for a smooth business is to preserve the health of our employees, associates and consumers. So we defined our priorities and immediately after the declaration of the epidemic in Serbia, we took a series of measures. This is a very complex task in the case of NIS because we have more than 11,000 employees (including subsidiaries of the company in the Republic of Serbia) and numerous processes – from oil production to sale of fuel at petrol stations.

Therefore, we formed crisis teams immediately at the company level, but also at the level of all business blocks, due to the specificity of different processes, in order to monitor the situation, health of employees, to cooperate with competent state bodies, and adopt all key measures in the company.

How is employee protection organized?

First of all, it was of great importance to inform the employees and the focus of the company was to inform the employees in a timely manner about the current situation, as well as about all necessary measures to protect the themselves, what to do if they suspect that they were infected, what to do in case hey have contracted the infection, how to monitor and record all the contacts with their colleagues at work they have had . Since it is a viral infection, the use of protective equipment such as masks and gloves is also of crucial importance. In the case of NIS, this is a major challenge, both financially and logistically, given the required quantities and the spread of locations throughout Serbia. We can boast that we have succeeded in establishing the process of the continuous procurement of protective equipment and disinfectants.  In addition, NIS has initiated the activity of manufacturing its own disinfectant for internal use.

Of course, disinfection is carried out regularly at the business centers in Belgrade and Novi Sad, at the Pancevo Refinery, as well as at other locations where employees work. Administrative staff are allowed to work from home, that is to say, anyone whose nature of the work activities allows it. Official trips abroad are postponed until further notice, and meetings are held via video link.

In addition to all the above, a number of specific measures are implemented in each business block, in accordance with the peculiarities of the process itself. For example, in the field of oil and gas production, key positions by plants are defined and their replacements are defined at three levels. Also, facilities with an increased risk of maintaining current production in the event of a reduction in the number of operators due to possible exposure to the virus have been defined. In addition, replacement facilities were set up for the operation of brigades at the facilities in case of virus outbreak, and the need for disinfection of existing ones, as well as for redeployment of employees so that they would not reside in the same space.

How are protection measures implemented at the Pancevo refinery and at petrol stations?

Regarding the Pancevo Oil Refinery, in addition to the regular protection measures, we have acquired protective visors for the operators in control rooms, and partitioned the space between them with Plexiglas protective fences. Disinfection of all incoming traffic lanes at the Refinery with sodium hypochlorite solution has been organized. A list of employees for whom it is necessary to organize special transportation for the needs of work has been formed and the work itself organized in shifts from 6.00 to 18.00h and from 18.00 to 6h. In addition, shift work is organized in such a manner so that colleagues from different shifts do not meet, but rather arrive in the time interval of 15 minutes.

Probably the most difficult challenge is Sales and Distribution Block, namely the sale of petroleum products. This is where most of our employees come into contact with consumers and we must strictly adhere to all recommended measures. In addition to the regular disinfection of facilities and fuel dispensers, we have determined the maximum number of consumers in the facility, installed a large Plexiglas fence in sales spots at a significant part of the retail network, closed restaurants, and adapted the working hours of the stations to the decisions of the regulations issued by the competent authorities. We have taken into account, also, the fact that some NIS petrol stations must operate 24 hours a day to supply the police, the military and the health sector. We have also offered new services to our customers in order to enhance the safety of customers and our employees. We have made it possible to pay for fuel through Drive.Go application, which is realized through a mobile phone, without going to the cash register.

NIS operates in other countries, not only in Serbia. What measures you apply there?

The virus causing Covid-19 is a new virus and there is currently no cure or vaccine for it. Also, there is no immunity in the general population. Therefore, as we are able to see all over the world, personal hygiene, regular disinfection of the rooms we live in, the use of protective equipment and measures of physical distance are the best ways of protection. This applies to Serbia, as well as to all NIS Group countries, and we apply the same or similar measures everywhere. Of course, we align them further with the recommendations of local government and health authorities and I can say that we have maintained business continuity in all the countries where we are present.

NIS has implemented 12 “Golden HSE Rules”. What does that mean? How far did you get in these activities?

Almost four years ago, we adopted the Golden HSE Rules, and our goal is clear – we want absolute safety for our employees, external contractors and everyone present at NIS locations, as well as maximum environmental protection. We want to reach the so-called “0 Target”, which means work processes without injuries at work, occupational diseases, accidents and negative effects on the work and living environment. The observance of these corporate values is the responsibility of all employees, whereby knowing and implementing the 12 Golden HSE rules in their daily work plays a key role.

In these 12 rules, we have woven everything that is needed to enable the safe operation of our sites in accordance with the specifics of the oil industry and best international practice. It refers, among other things, to the obligation to comply with the prescribed standards, wearing protective equipment, rules of conduct when working at heights, in confined space, when digging and excavating, or when performing high-risk activities, while driving, and so on.

The implementation of these HSE rules has contributed to reducing the number of injuries at work, and I am convinced that it will also help us to reach our ultimate goal – zero work injuries. We have, also, confirmed our commitment to these goals by winning the first place in the 2019 national competition, on the occasion of the celebration of April 28, World Occupational Safety and Health Day.

What are your plans for the future?

The implementation of occupational safety rules saves lives and preserves the environment, and we therefore want them to become a way of behavior for our employees and others who cooperate with NIS. That means a large number of training courses before all. In 2018, the implementation of the HSE Culture Improvement Program was initiated in cooperation with the UK based company, Dekra. During 2019, internal and external HSE trainings were conducted for a total of 38,464 attendants, or 154,849 hours were spent on HSE trainings. In the future, we will continue our continuous training and monitoring of the world’s best practices in this field.

Also, the focus of our activities will be to further improve the process of event investigations and to raise employees’ awareness of HSE risks and the importance of implementing preventive measures to the end of preventing risks.

Gasprom Neft has set a “zero target” as a strategic goal, which includes zero incidents, zero injuries at work and occupational diseases. This is also the goal of NIS. Where is NIS in relation to other European and world oil companies regarding safety and protection?


The “zero target” was set by Gasprom Neft as its strategic goal back in late 2015. NIS has adopted the parent company’s initiative and the year 2016 was declared the year of the HSE, so we set the highest standards that deliver results.

Such standards in the field of occupational safety are observed by most international companies, including large oil companies that have best practices in the HSE field. We, like them, have integrated the HSE into our business and corporate culture, because we are aware of the fact that those who manage work safety activities well are also the most successful in business.

I would like to point out that in 2019, NIS has made significant improvements in comparison to the previous one in the field of HSE. Among other things, the lost-time injury frequency indicator (LTIF indicator) is reduced by 25 percent if compared with the year 2018

This year we will face new challenges in controlling HSE risk, with the aim of making NIS an even safer, healthier and better environment for the work of all employees, employees of other companies, as well as visitors to our company locations.

As a part of the HSE business philosophy, NIS has embarked on the “Steps” program, which should make it easy to share responsibilities and roles, to the end of improving security in the contractor management process. What is the response of the companies you cooperate with as business partners and contractors on NIS projects in Serbia and abroad?

As you stated, the goal of our program called “Stairs” is to improve the safety of our work with contractors. It is very important for us to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, as well as proper communication between all participants in the process. Bearing in mind that about 80 percent of the companies we cooperate with are from Serbia, this is of great importance for the domestic economy. This program allows us to improve the management of HSE risks, to define precisely and clearly the steps that make the management process easier and more understandable. Apart from that, through this program we can share responsibilities throughout all the stages of the process, from pre-qualification, through procurement procedures and selection of suppliers, contract signing, to control and evaluation of their work and motivation. We have set high security standards and requirements for international oil companies in front of contractors and our business partners working on NIS projects in Serbia and abroad. And they observe them, and apply our standards and procedures. We introduced this program as one of the safe business mechanisms at the last year’s HSE Contractors Forum. Precisely, this traditional gathering, which has been taking place for 11 years, is the place for gathering and meeting with a large number of our business partners and contracting companies where we develop a common risk management philosophy. We also acquaint them to the goals, areas of application and benefits of applying occupational safety standards to create a safe work environment. In this way, through direct and constructive communication with partners, NIS wants to continue to develop and raise the level of HSE culture.

NIS workers are taken care of outside their workplaces too. What exactly does this mean?

One of the strategic goals of our company is our care for the physical and mental health of all employees. We are convinced that the best way to do this is to prevent, that is, regularly monitor the health of employees and work to improve their physical and mental health. Of particular importance in this system is the organization of a large number of different medical examinations for our employees, in accordance with the specifics of their workplace or gender. Last year alone, we invested 70 million dinars in more than 21,000 regular medical examinations for employees. In addition, during 2019, “mini-systematic medical checks” were organized, where employees were allowed to control blood sugar and control blood pressure, measure BMI and carbon monoxide (CO) levels on the exhale. Over the past year, several campaigns have been conducted on the prevention of obesity, diabetes, dehydration, cardiac and oncological diseases. The focus is also on the daily physical activities of employees. In more than 20 cities across Serbia, employees have the opportunity to engage in various recreational activities. The volume of engagement is increasing year by year, so an increasing number of employees are taking advantage of these benefits and are regularly recreating. Corporate sport is also a major focus, with more than 1,000 employees participating in internal sporting events.

An important part of the HSE is environmental protection. What does NIS consider as a priority task? What actions do you take?

The implementation of environmental projects is an essential segment of NIS’s business operations. Since 2009, we have invested over 13 billion dinars in such projects. RSD 534 million were invested and included all business segments in 2019 alone. Among the implemented projects are those at the Pancevo Oil Refinery, which directly contributed to the reduction of air emissions (projects of installation of Low NOx burners at several plants, project of ejector gas washing at the vacuum distillation plant, etc.). We are pleased to say that the Refinery is the first energy facility in Serbia to have an IPPC license that guarantees that the production process is fully compliant with national and international environmental standards. During 2019, activities continued on the rehabilitation of historical pollution, on oil well sites, and on restoring agricultural land to its original purpose. Since 2009, the total area of reclaimed land is more than 15ha. Our natural gas monetization program also contributes to environmental protection, since in 2013, we launched small power plants in certain oil and gas fields in Serbia, where gas, which was previously burned on a torch, is used to produce heat and electricity. In addition to the environmental effect, there is also a significant economic effect.  Environmental protection, especially of land and underground water, as well as air, is also achieved through the implementation of projects at gas stations through the installation of underground reservoirs for petroleum products, with double sheathing and the installation of a gasoline vapor recovery system.

With all the implemented projects, NIS confirms that it is on a good and safe path to the compliance not only with the requirements of the legislation of the Republic of Serbia, but also with the requirements of the EU in the field of environmental protection.

As a socially responsible company, NIS takes care of reducing the impact of its activities on greenhouse gas emissions through the implementation of energy efficiency improvement projects  and the use   of natural gas as the predominant energy fuel.

Quantification and calculation of GHG emissions for NIS (so-called: Company’s Carbon Footprint ) were also identified, identifying all the activities during which GHG emissions occurred,  in order to record the situation and evaluate the possibilities for reducing emissions, as well as to present the Company’s public reports (Report on sustainable development) which is also the practice of the world’s major oil companies.

In addition, our employees take an active part in environmental clean-up actions and show by example that we care about healthy and safe environment.