5 Basic Elements of a Refinery Turnaround

5 Basic Elements of a Refinery Turnaround


Turnarounds are planned events undertaken by refineries to inspect equipment and make any necessary repairs, replacements, and upgrades. The purpose of a turnaround is to ensure the plant is running safely, efficiently, and meets all government and environmental regulations. 

Most refineries implement a turnaround every three to five years. Turnarounds are expensive, requiring extensive planning of activities, access to additional labour, and procurement of materials. They can take from a few weeks to months to complete, depending on the size of the plant and the scope of the work, and of course, any issues that arise along the way. Due to the sheer number of tasks and activities, turnarounds involve hiring large numbers of temporary workers to work alongside existing employees in such roles as pipefitters, electrician, labourer, boilermaker. The terms ‘turnaround’ and ‘shutdown’ are sometimes used interchangeably but they are not technically the same thing. While all turnarounds are planned events, shutdowns happen as a result of a turnaround (you 'shut down' the plant or parts of it when conducting a turnaround), but shutdowns also happen due to natural disasters, accidents, threats, etc.


Here are the 5 basic elements of a turnaround:




Safety is of the utmost importance and the primary goal of a turnaround - every measure is undertaken to ensure noone gets hurt. Turnarounds don’t happen every day. They involve increased numbers of people (many of them new to the site), and a lot of activities occurring simultaneously - all resulting in increased risk.


Safety must be considered at every level and fully embedded in the preparation, planning and implementation of a turnaround. Responsibility for safety belongs to everyone but the organization needs to ensure they've established effective communication channels, orientations, safety procedures, guidelines and training.




Turnarounds are a highly complex series of activities that occur simultaneously under strict regulation and timelines. Therefore, a turnaround project plan is absolutely required to capture all the activities and to manage timeline, costs, and safety. A turnaround manager leads the project, using customized project management software that tracks all the elements of the turnaround to ensure all the activities take place on time and within budget, and for enhanced transparency and visibility of the project.




Logistics involves the receiving, monitoring, storing and distributing of all materials, equipment, and services. Logistics also oversees accommodation for, and the monitoring of, external workers who need to be familiarized with the site and processes. Poor logistics planning can derail the overall project and add significantly to cost, timing and potentially, safety.




Turnarounds are expensive - both in terms of lost production and in costs. The primary categories of expenses are labour (employees and contractors), materials and equipment but there are many subcategories. Forecasting and controlling a turnaround budget can be challenging as in many cases, the various activities are financed through a number of different cost centres and managed by different people.




The purpose of turnarounds is to achieve compliance with ever-evolving environmental and government mandates, improve safety and efficiency, and ultimately ensure the company’s long term competitiveness. Once operations have re-commenced, the next step is to evaluate and document learnings from the turnaround and apply them to future ones.


Central to turnarounds and shutdowns are people - those in charge of planning and managing them, and those who provide the skilled labour to make turnarounds happen. Turnarounds require skilled tradespeople to perform such tasks as welding, pipefitting, carpentry, finishing concrete, and more. Depending on the size of the turnaround, anywhere from hundreds to thousands of tradespeople may be required.

Contact Us

To find out more about how our Calgary placement agency can help you attract, hire and keep top turnaround talent, contact us at 1-866-666-9520 or fill in our online contact form.

Contact Us