25th Sep, 2021 Read time 11 minutes

MOL: HSE in a Pandemic

Viktoria Marton, SD&HSE Vice President, MOL Group


What impact did the pandemic have on HSE?

Before the pandemic struck, people’s connection with the HSE department typically revolved around regular training and health check-ups. COVID-19 changed that perception and, as people learned more about us, our function was elevated and became an essential part of day-to-day business. People turned to us to ask what they should do next.


How did the HSE function respond to the pandemic? What were your priorities and how did it affect you personally?

The hardest part in our response to the pandemic was finding the right answers. We had many options and needed to figure out the right approach. At the very start of the pandemic, we had to move quickly, make immediate decisions, review results, adjust and modify accordingly. However, this fast pace of work had a positive effect on the team, and we looked for partners and sources that we could rely on and provide dependable answers to our questions. We focussed on cross-country operations and engaged with other functions in the organisation much closely. We had to align with regulations across 30 different countries and work together, learn from each other, and find the best way to respond.

Of course, there were some mistakes. As an example, a type of test we selected started to show an incredible rate of positive results and we quickly recognised there was a problem with the test and had to change our strategy. We soon realized that with enough creativity, a proactive approach and real cooperation internally and externally, we could handle the situation. For example, we work across a lot of remote locations and needed solutions for everything from a refinery to retail operations scattered over many different locations. With no time to arrange deliveries, HSE colleagues went out to issue necessary equipment to staff and worked beyond normal hours to ensure people were as safe as possible. Another example is making use of knowledge from other departments, where we used internal expertise on scheduling to ensure successful roll out of the COVID-19 testing program.

Of course, our top priority was to support the business and ensure business continuity. We prepared plans in case of a surge in cases in any one location, covering areas such as accommodation and food supplies if the facility had to lock down. Fortunately, these were not needed.

Personally, I found working from home difficult. I missed the office and my colleagues and found it hard to balance work while having family around me.


Why and how does MOL think large companies should be involved in the vaccination rollout?

As a large company with over 26,000 employees internationally MOL has access to a wide range of medical services, providing employees with insurance-based and occupational health medical support. This is a good basis for the quick organisation of a vaccination campaign. We also already have communication channels in place and know how to convey a message effectively.

In MOL’s core countries, including Hungary, Slovakia, and Croatia, we worked together with state authorities, cooperating and organising on-site vaccination for our staff. Combined with efforts to educate and explain why vaccination was so important, this was a huge step in fighting the pandemic. We brought in experts in each country to talk about the details of each type of vaccination and to bring a closer, personal aspect to our communications. This helped allay people’s concerns and counter the false information about the vaccines that was appearing on the internet.

Today, our communication continues as we share data available about the status of the vaccination program, how many people are protected and how we are preparing for another wave of the pandemic. Almost 60% of MOL employees are vaccinated and we are targeting communication with those that are hesitant with facts that will help them reach a good decision.


How is HSE changing? What changes have there been in HSE within MOL over the past 15 years and what do you expect will be in place in the coming years?

15 years ago, HSE was speaking about sustainability, but people did not really understand why this was important. Today sustainability is not a HSE function or just a communication, it is important for everyone in the company and the business as whole. Everyone understands the importance.  In a quick-changing world, the HSE function continues to raise new topics and new ideas for the long-term value of the business and its people.

Digitalization is another area that is completely changing the way we work. We are looking for fast processes, real-time data and to connect all existing systems together for the sharing of information and improved decision making.

As the world is changing around us, we need to move with it. MOL Group is entering into new business areas, diversifying from the oil and gas base we had 10 years ago. We need to speed up this change, learn new technologies, and work to address the new HSE challenges we will face. This requires effective, professional preparation but we also need to work on cost and efficiency improvements in the long term. The pandemic showed the flexibility and resilience of the business and I believe this will help us in our diversification and growth in the future.


Why has MOL donated so much to local efforts to contain the pandemic?

MOL is not just a stand-alone company that can be separated from the communities it operates in. Our employees have families and live in communities. The life, health and well-being of all these people are important to us. Whether staff or customers, we need to show care towards them.

As part of our social responsibility to communities, we did our best to support them through the pandemic. We donated disinfectants produced with remarkable speed in our refining facilities when there was a lack of these in poorer countries and gave ventilation devices to hospitals. We also tried to support health care workers through initiatives such as providing coffee at service stations. Such actions were appreciated by the health care workers but also by our employees, who were keen to help where they could. MOL Group have spent more than USD 5mn on pandemic-related support so far, and more than USD 20mn on the protection of our employees, customers and partners.


What efforts is MOL undertaking today to continue its support in the fight against the pandemic?

We are continuously monitoring the situation in all the countries where we operate and are watching the data and trends. We are ready to intervene very quickly if anything starts to change. The third wave of the pandemic showed that the actions we were taking were working as we had a much lower rise in cases than country averages. To this end we have not made any major changes to our approach to the pandemic. We still have internal rules, although some have been somewhat relaxed. We are continuing with disinfection processes and internal testing of employees, although the number of tests has decreased from the first peaks.

We also continue to work with medical institutions and professionals to get information on the latest trends, methods of prevention, and new ways of testing. We are working to put ourselves in the best position we can to efficiently handle another wave of the pandemic.


What lessons has MOL learned during the past 18 months? Is there anything you would have done differently?

Our approach to the pandemic proved to be okay but I would maybe change the first steps we took and reacted more quickly. Although we had done scenario planning for a pandemic years ago, it had never happened before and, I do not think anyone believed it would. When reality struck, however, and it was no longer about paper planning, we needed some time to get up to speed and find a solution. The experience we now have means we are better prepared for the first steps and have learned how to make more reliable and faster decisions. It is particularly important now on the brink of the 4th wave.


What changes have there been to safety procedures because of the pandemic?

Work safety has not changed much because of the pandemic. However, the MOL Group and, indeed, the whole oil industry has delivered the best operational safety performance during the pandemic. Although operators were going into work as before, I believe this is because they were more focussed on their work and a safe way of working. This shows that improving safety is achievable.

As a basic part of risk management, steps such as social distancing and wearing masks became an integral part of the work environment. To minimise contact and prevent the virus from spreading, we reduced onsite inspections. However, this is an important part of safety, and we need to get this aspect back to pre-pandemic levels. The pandemic has speeded up and progressed digitalization and the use of remote inspection tools that will help us increase resiliency for the future.


Has the pandemic changed the culture within MOL in any way?

The pandemic made us more aware of people’s problems and issues with the need for mental health support for people living in isolation, for example. It has also changed how we work together with increased use of digital tools and an understanding that we do not always need to get in the car or jump on a plane to work effectively. Remote team meetings have become a common and surprisingly highly effective method of communication. The challenges presented by the pandemic highlighted the importance of cooperation, collaboration, team spirit and flexibility. I cannot see these changes going back but more becoming a permanent aspect of our culture for the future.


Did the pandemic bring any positive aspects?

There have been many positive aspects brought about by the pandemic, including the cultural changes mentioned above, increased use of digital tools, online meetings and an increased awareness about sustainability. I am very proud of how MOL reacted and the support we were able to give to both employees and wider communities. Our business is part of the critical infrastructure within the countries in which we operate, and it is right that we care and take the steps we can to support the people who live there.


Viktoria Marton Bio:

Viktoria Marton, has been at MOL Group for 15 years within the SD & HSE division. She has acted as the SD&HSE Vice President since June 2020 and before that worked as the Head of Environment and E&P SD&HSE Support. Viktoria has experience in a range of health and safety jobs and has an MBA in Finance from the Central European University which she obtained in 2008 and has a BSC in Environmental Science from Veszprémi Egyetem.


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