How one professional helped reshape the safety culture at a massive refueling company
In the world of big oil, Roshan Varghese stands tall as a safety leader at 4Refuel, the largest mobile on-site refueling company in North America. It’s a high-hazard industry, but one that keeps people and goods moving across this vast continent.
Varghese's own journey through the safety profession began on the other side of the world, in southern India and was deeply influenced by his dad, who worked in an oil refinery. "My father guided me to pursue an engineering degree and specialize in safety and fire engineering," he says.
Vargehese graduated from university and immediately went to work in the oil and gas sector in the Middle East. In 2016, a significant change occurred as Varghese and his family moved to Canada. Adjusting to a new culture and lifestyle was a challenge, but Varghese remained committed to his career. He obtained safety certifications in North America and eventually joined Sodexo's energy division.
However, it was 4Refuel's commitment to safety that truly attracted Varghese. "They were investing more in health and safety, and 4Refuel had the right mix of everything," he recalls. In 2019, he joined the company as the director of health and safety.
The company also has a clear mission that resonates with Varghese: providing the last-mile connectivity in the fuel supply network. Varghese explains, "we take diesel from terminals and directly go to our customer locations, fueling their equipment and vehicles." This crucial service underpins industries across the continent, making safety an utmost priority.
Now, as the senior director of environmental health and safety, Varghese faces daily challenges in ensuring the safety of 4Refuel's workforce. "We have 450 certified refueling professionals working across Canada, with operations in Texas," he explains. "Our biggest challenge is driver turnover, creating a safety culture with a high influx of new employees."
4Refuel's unique operational nature adds complexity. "Our drivers are more than just drivers; they engage in a lot of physical labor," Varghese notes. "Dealing with petroleum products increases the risk, and we must operate in extreme weather conditions."
Varghese's leadership at 4Refuel has sparked a paradigm shift in how safety is perceived within the transportation industry. "Safety had always been viewed as a compliance issue," he says. "I wanted to change that perception." Under his leadership, safety transformed from a punitive system to a tool that motivates and encourages employees.
One of the pivotal moments in Varghese's tenure was the implementation of a behavior-based safety program called "Courage to Care." It focused on compassionate leadership, fostering positive conversations, and shifting the blame culture. "Our leaders started to believe that these incidents were preventable," he says, emphasizing the importance of leadership's role in influencing safety.
4Refuel's investment in safety technology, such as dash cameras with AI and machine learning, has also yielded significant results. "Our cameras reduced high-severity incidents by up to 75%," claims Varghese. These innovations have enabled proactive coaching and improved driver behavior.
Varghese's dedication to safety has not gone unnoticed. When asked about his recent nomination for a CSEA Safety Leader of the Year award, he humbly acknowledges the efforts of his colleagues. "It was a pleasant surprise," he says. "I'm just starting to explore these areas, and it's inspiring to see how others have succeeded in the safety profession."
As the industry undergoes transformations with a heightened focus on health and safety, Varghese’s embrace and evangelizing of human and organizational performance theories, demonstrates that safety and business can coexist harmoniously.
"Safety is good for business," he affirms. "We're here to deliver fuel safely and prove that safety and profitability go hand in hand." With leaders like Varghese at the helm, the future of safety in the transportation industry looks promising.