Safety has its rewards

The chemicals, oil and gas sector is a pillar of Singapore's economy and the Economic Development Board has been nurturing it to make sure it remains strong with bright employment prospects for people here. Arti Mulchand profiles some of the people working in it.

It is rare for a company to reward an employee for refusing to work. But at Chevron Oronite, that is just the way things are, says 44-year-old Lim Keng Yang, its general manager of maintenance and engineering.

His job is to ensure safety at the company's plant on Jurong Island. It means rallying employees and contractors not to work if they smell danger, and giving them vouchers as a reward.

"It is not easy to explain that we want them to stop work - and that we reward them for it. But safety is our top priority," he says.

Sometimes, it even means telling off the boss.

"When I first came on board and was figuring my way around, I sometimes walked into the plant without my helmet and personal protection glasses, and I got stopped," he recalls.

"It was a good demonstration of how people were looking out for one another."

That made him proud.

He says: "Many have the impression that 'maintenance' is about machines and equipment.

"It is really about people. How the work is approached is as important as the work itself."

In Singapore, Chevron Oronite makes additives for lubricants and fuels that go into a variety of engines.

Mr Lim spends his days in a stream of meetings, safety checks and briefings with Chevron's 70-strong maintenance team and 150 maintenance contractors.

But it's all in a day's work, he says.

"I like the interaction. Nothing beats face-to-face engagement.

"I work with a diverse team with different communication needs, so being able to interact directly with them helps me understand the challenges they face."

When he gets time away from work on weekends, he goes fishing or cycling with his children.

Mr Lim graduated with a degree in chemical engineering from the National University of Singapore in 1995. He started work as a process engineer in the petrochemical sector, before taking on a role in plant operations.

When he joined Chevron Oronite in 1998, he did supply chain management.

He says: "I was keen to be exposed to different aspects of the petrochemical business, so supply chain management was a great extension of the manufacturing background I had."

In 2010, he became the general manager for technical matters and, two years ago, he assumed his current role.

Next month, he will receive a new title - global marine manager. He will relocate, along with his wife and two teenage sons, to California, his first overseas posting.

He says: "I've spent most of my career in manufacturing and doing supply chain management, so this will be new to me.

"California will be a great place to be - great weather, lovely countryside and many things to do on the weekends. We're all very excited about the move."

More importantly, he adds, the posting will give him a chance to learn how to improve the Singapore operations.

He says: "I want to be able to bring back the knowledge gained and help develop local talent."

This article was first published on May 26, 2014