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HSE (Health, Safety, Environment) is a major, perhaps key priority of NIS work, regardless of the fact that NIS, like any other company, should make a profit and engage in its core activities: research, production, and refining of crude oil and sales of petroleum products. HSE is an integral part of each of our processes, and it has deeply entered the culture of this company. I sincerely believe that HSE is something without which NIS could not be so stable in fulfilling its primary task – ensuring a stable and regular supply of petroleum products to the Serbian market. At the same time, HSE is the road to green NIS, because compliance with environmental regulations, not only of Serbia but also of the EU, is crucial in the company’s business policy, says Mr Ivan Dmitriev, Director of the HSE Function at NIS for “Energija Balkana” portal.
What would you point out as important achievements in this field?
HSE is the key point in the life of the company. HSE is an important, indispensable, and continuous part of each of our business processes. How seriously it has entered all segments of our activity can be seen in the fact that all key meetings of the company always start with topics from HSE.
How deeply HSE has entered the core business, the work, and the life of the company can be seen in the fact that we, for example, in the production contract have HSE indicators at the same level as financial indicators, i.e. profit indicators. This shows the employees that, regardless of our primary business, HSE is something that is crucial for the stable life of the company.
Positive trends in HSE are also seen in the fact that we can compare ourselves with key players not only in the region but also with the world’s largest oil companies, and we are often ahead of them according to some of our key indicators.
The so-called injury indicator – LTIF, the injury index, has been at its lowest point in the last five to seven years. This means that from the point of view of protecting people, we have reached the point where we have not had fatalities at work for a long time, and there are no serious injuries. And, when it comes to environmental aspects, I would like to point out that over the last 10 years, we have reduced the emission of pollutants into the air by 90%, which is a fantastic indicator if we compare ourselves with NIS from the period before privatization. Since 2009, NIS has invested more than EUR 900 million in environmental projects and projects that indirectly have a positive impact on environmental protection. Of this, more than EUR 125 million were invested in exclusively environmental projects.
We have achieved all this by introducing the best technologies and best practices, with the digitalization of the process, and with a huge financial investment. No matter how proud we are of these achievements, we know that we should not stop, because this would lead to a decline and potential problems. Therefore, we will continue to invest in HSE, in the development of HSE culture.
What do you mean by the development of HSE culture?
All these positive indicators mean nothing without changing the HSE culture. That’s our top priority. It starts from each employee, but also from top management. Over the last few years, we have introduced a lot of interesting practices that raise the awareness of employees.
We have training centres in our key facilities so that employees can get acquainted with the risks and how to avoid them. People working in administration are also acquainted with the risks that are possible in production and with how hard this job is. As of this year, we have launched a special HSE promotion programme at the faculties in Belgrade, Niš, Novi Sad, Subotica, and Zrenjanin. We haven’t done that before. We are also surprised by how interesting HSE is to students now. Once a month, we organize various lectures at these faculties and we are pleasantly surprised how interested students are to start their work in NIS, precisely in HSE. Previously, their interests were in exploration, oil and gas production, refining… and now I am pleasantly surprised that they want to work in the HSE sector. This is good because we need young, progressive people, who are fresh blood for HSE.
At the HSE Forum in June last year, you pointed out that occupational safety and environmental protection was “an absolute priority, but also an integral part of every work process in NIS”. What are the company’s goals in this area? How far have you come in achieving them?
At NIS, we are aware of the fact that only safe production is profitable production. Therefore, one of the first training sessions that our employees undergo when they start working in NIS is the HSE training. It is mandatory for all employees.
During the last year only, 24,840 working hours were spent on HSE training. Regardless of that, we know that we cannot make any work safer if we do not train our contractors as well, so we have also organized these training sessions for more than 6,600 contractors.
We have set ourselves an ambitious goal – to achieve the so-called “Goal Zero”, that is, to have our business processes free of any negative impact on employees, partners, and the environment. And since last year, the official statistics of NIS include injuries and possible accidents of contractors, which was not the case before.
Thus, in practice, we show that we perceive contractors as part of NIS, which they truly are when they work with us. NIS statistics also include foreign assets of companies abroad, in B&H, Romania, and Bulgaria, so through this systematic approach, we promote the HSE culture and the philosophy of NIS green business. Currently, according to all our key HSE indicators, we see a positive trend that will further improve.
In 2022, the 13th Forum of Contractors was organized. How important for HSE is this type of communication with NIS business partners?
This forum is generally a good practice. It is very useful in combination with round tables and already detailed communication with contractors on concrete problems. Last year, more than 120 contractors and more than 75 employees of our company attended the Forum of Contractors. Representatives of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran, and Social Affairs of Serbia, Directorate for Occupational Safety and Health, Labour Inspectorate, and Provincial Secretariat for Energy, Construction, and Transport took part in the event.
The aim of the Forum was to raise awareness of the need for consistent implementation of safety rules at all NIS locations and exchange of best experiences and practices. At NIS, we believe that these HSE goals can be achieved, and we are actively working on it. And no matter how committed we are to them within the company, we cannot reach them without our partners and contractors. Since it is aware of the importance of events such as the Forum of Contractors, NIS will continue to organize them in order to contribute to the further development of the culture of occupational safety in Serbia.
Our results in this field are recognized and, two years in a row, the company has received a national award in the field of occupational safety and health in the category of the “28 April” Charter awarded by the Directorate for Occupational Safety and Health of the Ministry of Labour, Employment, Veteran, and Social Affairs.
At the time of the Covid-19 pandemic, there was an increased concern for the health of workers in all companies in the country. In what way does NIS now show its care about the well-being of employees?
Coronavirus was a very serious problem, because for two years, we lived in an unusual format. We had to train some of our employees to function in an online format. But, of course, we could not transfer the entire production process to remote work. That is why the work policies of NIS at the time of the pandemic were very strict. We have invested a lot of resources to protect our employees.
In addition, we have digitized the monitoring of the sick and infected among employees, so that we know who should go to quarantine in case someone gets sick. Corona pandemic taught us how important transparency is. Every employee could see on the company portal the number of infected, hospitalized, and quarantined persons at the moment.
Although the risk of getting sick is now significantly lower, we still conduct analytics, which shows the seriousness we have devoted to this issue. I would like to note that in the Covid period, NIS also proved to be a stable partner to the country for energy security and a stable supply of the market.
As part of the NIS Green Agenda, an Environmental Strategy has been developed. What are its short-term and long-term goals?
First of all, I would like to point out that, as a socially responsible company, NIS strives for rational use of natural resources and reducing the negative impact on human life and the environment. Last year, we also developed a corporate Environmental Strategy 2030.
Its key parameters have also entered the official, general strategy of the company. The key message from the green strategy is that NIS wants to rationally use natural resources, generate as little waste as possible, and comply with all regulations not only at home but also abroad, where it operates. We are focused on selecting the best technologies, which have the least negative impact on the environment. HSE, of course, has a significant role on the road to green NIS.
Considering that environmental protection is one of the priorities of the company’s activities, NIS is committed to constantly improving environmental processes and activities, while at the same time, we work very intensively to develop the environmental awareness of our employees. In addition to informing our employees and partners, communication with the public is also significant, primarily when it comes to activities in the field of environmental protection.
As long-term goals, we defined the reduction of the negative impact on the environment (reduction of GHG (greenhouse gas) emissions and carbon intensity, reduction of other emissions – NOx, SOx, PM, VOC, and the use of natural resources).
We have also defined the assessment of the necessary investments to achieve the goals and to comply with the requirements of the regulations of the Republic of Serbia and the EU. The Study of GHG Emission Projections by 2030 was completed with the analysis of technical measures for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The study identified the largest sources of GHG emissions and possible emission reduction measures and defined their reduction potentials with projections for 2030.
The goal of NIS is that all business projects bring positive effects on environmental protection.
You emphasise that the basic objectives in the field of environmental protection are aimed at compliance with all regulations relating to air, water, and soil, i.e. reduced generation of and a higher degree of recycling and disposal of the generated waste. How much do new technologies in the exploration, exploitation, refining, and sales and distribution of fossil fuels contribute to this?
NIS is committed to the application of new technologies in all segments of activity, and these new technologies not only contribute to better business effects but also have an environmental aspect.
The best example of this is the “Bottom of the Barrel” project, which we launched in 2020 and which is worth over EUR 300 million. There, the environmental effects are just as important as the financial ones – “Bottom-of-the-Barrel” means cessation of the production of fuel oil with high sulphur content, that is, reducing the emissions of pollutants into the air. In 2017, Pančevo Oil Refinery received an IPPC permit for integrated pollution prevention and control, which made the NIS processing complex the first energy plant in Serbia to obtain that permit.
Another example is the amine plant within the gas refinery in Elemir, which we put into operation in 2016, enabling an increase in the quality of domestic natural gas through the separation of carbon dioxide and other gas impurities, while at the same time contributing to the increase in the volume of gas production.
These are just a few examples of how the synergy of new technologies and commitment to the environment can contribute to the implementation of projects that improve environmental protection, as well as business efficiency.
What exactly has been achieved with this?
By implementing projects in all business segments, we achieved significant results – we remediate historical pollution, and 16 hectares of agricultural land were returned to their original purpose. NIS draws water from the least sensitive water resources – surface water is used. The share of return condensate in the Pančevo Oil Refinery is about 35% of the total water abstracted, which directly contributed to the lower abstraction of water from the Danube.
We inject significant amounts of CO2 into the oil and gas reservoir of Rusanda, which prevents emissions into the atmosphere.
We have already installed solar panels for the production of electricity at 15 petrol stations, so the estimated annual reduction in CO2 emissions is about 600 tonnes. Last year, CCPP Pančevo was put into operation with electricity produced from the most environmentally friendly fossil fuel – gas.
NIS has opened small power plants at eight locations in Serbia on oil and gas fields, where electricity and steam are produced from gas that was previously burned on a flare.
Today is World Environment Day. Environmental activists tend to accuse oil companies of being the biggest culprits of environmental pollution. What is your response to that?
Today, 5 June, NIS will clean four locations in Fruška Gora with environmental activists. In order to mark 5 June, World Environment Day, and raise environmental awareness, we planned to carry out a campaign of cleaning up Fruška Gora Mountain from waste together with the Provincial Secretariat for Urban Planning and Environmental Protection, PE Fruška Gora National Park, and the Institute for Nature Conservation of Vojvodina Province, entitled “Workday for Nature”.
It is known that NIS volunteers are very active in environmental campaigns, so we also take care of the environment through the environmental campaigns of our employees. A large number of NIS volunteers have already taken part in cleaning Fruška Gora National Park, areas in Pančevo, Belgrade Botanical Garden, and other campaigns.
Of course, it is undeniable that NIS is one of the very energy-intensive companies engaged in the exploration, production, refining, transport, and storage of oil and petroleum products and as such has a significant impact on the environment. Being aware of these facts, we have systematically invested in environmental projects in all segments of business in order to minimize this impact.
This is supported by concrete results, but also by our continuous investments in the field of environmental protection. In the upcoming period, the company will continue to invest in environmental projects, as well as in projects with positive environmental impact.