It’s like its own city; everything that goes on outside, happens here too!
There are copper lightning rods installed on our tenants’ buildings, and thieves had set their sights on them. I saw them walking across the roofs of the buildings one night. I called our fire department and made sure the perimeter of the building was sealed off. The police arrived and went inside. I naturally had to lead them in because they didn’t know their way around. I then used an aerial platform to lift a dog onto the roof. The police had already run past the thieves, but I could see them hiding between the pipes. As a Duty Officer, you know your way around your terrain better than anyone. The thieves were arrested.
This story was told by Jean Paul Mannens, who has been working at the Campus for 33 years, 20 of which have been in his capacity as Duty Officer at the Brightlands Chemelot Campus. We have experienced emergencies that range from a scratch to a fatal accident. Fortunately, the latter didn’t happen on our property, but we do get asked to help. Something like that has a lot of impact, of course. Now and then, there can be some “tampering” with chemicals. It’s actually like its own city; everything that goes on outside, happens here too.
What is the history of the Duty Officer position?
Duty Officer is a position that has existed since the start of DSM, and at the time was a function related to the operators working in a plant. The Duty Officer was often an experienced, senior operator who was supported by the other operators.
The role has changed over the years, and even though the Duty Officer still plays a supervisory role, the job focuses primarily on safety and emergencies. It is also a facilitating position, providing customers with support for their needs, such as providing assistance to their operators and pilot plants.
What are your responsibilities as Duty Officer?
A lot has changed in the field of safety, when it comes to permits, supervision over implementation, you name it. The same goes for emergency management, from providing support to and instructing the fire department to the manning the safety action center. A better question would be what don’t we do?
We provide services for our customers 24/7. Our customers’ problems become our problems; we offer them what they need. This doesn’t include the impossible of course. We can’t go to the moon for them. You do however want the service level to be high, particularly when it comes to permits, safety and emergencies. When a customer runs out of helium, we do what it takes to get them their tanks.
We also try to prevent emergencies, which includes notifying a customer when we see something out of the ordinary, or a dangerous situation. Most customers accept this, but some require multiple warnings.
Maintaining our many contacts is important, such as walking into a company’s premises and asking them how everything is going. This is when you hear what they need and make sure you are able to respond. We do everything on the operational side; we don’t talk to the CEOs of the companies at the campus but to the operators and researchers. We also talk to the companies or contractors working here and providing us with services: doing renovations, building installations and so on.
How is your organization structured?
We’re a group of seven, supported by the day officer who draws up permits, among other things. We work 365 days a year, 24 hours a day; even on Christmas! On the weekends, we have 60 – 70 overtime employees who also need to be provided with assistance. The plants operate continuously, so we need to have enough people. We don’t do anything on December 31, and even though we are at the site, we put our feet up. Unless, of course, there’s an emergency.
I’ve been here for 33 years and once started out as an operator. Everyone in our group started out as an operator at the time; our team has been working together for 33 years. We would go through fire for each other.
We recently added two new employees to our team whom we need to train. It’s important for a Duty Officer to have a background as an operator and knowledge of process engineering. There’s also a lot of on-the-job training involved, such as how to deal with customers without becoming “enslaved” by them.
What’s a typical day as Duty Officer look like?
I have no idea. You always have the greatest intentions, but 90% of them don’t get fulfilled. The normal routine would be to check work permits and monitor companies on the execution of their activities. However, we get so many phone calls, mostly from customers with questions that need to be addressed fast and ad hoc, and breakdowns, since these naturally always take precedence.
What do you like about your work?
I really like the diversity, that you don’t know what will happen next. Like drinking a beer with former minister Maxime Verhagen, for example. Or customers who are super satisfied, and grateful that we respond so quickly. The customer always comes first. All they have to do is ask and we’re there at their service. The things customers ask us to do are things they can’t do themselves; they really need our help.