HSE: Health, Safety and Environmental

This blog is based on the post HSE: Health, Safety and Environmental.

Health safety environmentlal HSE for alternative fuels

In this post we look at the term Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE). (The order of the letters is not important — different companies use the terms SHE, HES and ESH — they all mean the same thing.) As alternatives to the fossil fuels are considered, it is important to consider their safety, health and environmental impacts.

All energy sources contain a large amount of energy within a small volume. If that energy is released in an uncontrolled manner people can be injured or killed. If the material is released more slowly it can create health and environmental problems. Many events affect all three elements. For example, the Deepwater Horizon explosion and fire led to the deaths of eleven men, many others suffered long-term health effects, and the beaches and wetlands of southern Louisiana were fouled with crude oil.

Health, Safety and Environmental Deepwater Horizon
Deepwater Horizon Fire

The three HSE terms can be placed on a spectrum. At one end of the spectrum is safety; at the other end is environmental, with health in the middle. Safety issues such as fires and explosions are virtually instantaneous and affect only those in the immediate location of the event. Environmental concerns affect large numbers of people and can last for years. Health issues tend to be more local and limited in duration.


Health problems generally have the greatest impact on the workers who handle that particular energy source. In the context of this Net Zero programs health issues are not generally a significant concern.

Health problems are not just to do with the energy source itself. Indeed, the biggest health issue with many alternative energy sources is often to do with mining and transportation. Coal mining is associated with many health issues.


Many of the technologies that have been proposed to address climate change are not new; they are simply being scaled up. Therefore, their use should not create any major new safety concerns. For example, it is proposed to use ammonia as a fuel for the shipping industry. Ammonia is already widely used as the key material in the production of nitrate fertilizers. Hence, the ammonia industry has well developed procedures and standards for the safe handling of that product.

Nevertheless, if a new energy source is being implemented on a much wider scale than hitherto safety needs to be carefully evaluated. Using ammonia as an example once more, the chemical will now be handled at many locations where the workers may have had insufficient training in its use.

Safety Diamonds

Safety diamonds are used by emergency personnel who may not be familiar with the properties of the chemical, but who need to make quick decisions during the course of an emergency such as a chemical release or a large fire. Safety diamonds are also one way in which safety information and actions can be conveyed to a wider range of workers, and to the general public. They are also a convenient way of quickly evaluating new energy sources.

A blank safety diamond is shown below.

Safety Diamond elements

A safety diamond has four sections, each with its designated color. Each section contains a number in the range 0 to 4. A value of ‘0’ indicates that there is no concern, a ‘4’ indicates a high risk. (The letters ‘SA’ are also used — they stand for ‘simple asphyxiant gases’.)

The legend associated with each section of the Safety Diamond is shown below.

Safety diamond text
Safety Diamond Legend

The safety diamond for gasoline (petrol) is shown.

Gasoline Safety Diamond
Gasoline Safety Diamond

It tells us that:

  • The Flammability hazard — ‘3’ —is ‘Serious’. Gasoline is a fire hazard.

  • The Instability hazard — ‘0’ — is ‘Minimal’. This means that water can be used on a fire without causing any type of side reaction.

  • There are no Specific hazards to do with issues such as corrosion.

  • The Health hazard — ‘1’ — is ‘Slight’.


The third letter in the term HSE is ‘E’: Environmental. In this context the term environmental excludes emissions to do with greenhouse gases.

Fossil fuels have an environmental impact in terms of general pollution. Concerns to do with plastics in the oceans, smog in the air, toxic chemicals in landfills, and oil spills contaminating beaches are all examples of such pollution. However, the environmental issues to do with oil and gas are generally well understood and managed. Coal is more problematic when it comes to environmental impact, both when it is mined and when it is burned, largely because it creates an ash that has to be disposed of.

HSE of Hydrocarbon/Fossil Fuels

Fossil fuels do have safety issues, as we see whenever there is a fire or explosion at a refinery or an offshore oil and gas facility. However, these hazards are well understood and generally well managed. Energy and oil companies have developed many procedures, standards and rules to do with the safe management of oil, gas and coal and their associated products.

The following Table provides an assessment of the HSE qualities of the fossil fuels. The Table will be used as a foundation for an analysis of HSE issues to do with alternative fuels in future posts. The letters used have the following meaning:

  • ‘Y’ means ‘Yes’ — it meets the relevant criteria effectively.

  • ‘P’ means ‘Partial’.

  • ‘N’ means ‘No’ — it does not satisfy the requirements of that feature.


HSE Fossil Fuels

Because there is so much experience to do with the handling of fossil fuels, they have been assigned a ‘Y’ value in all but one of the categories. The exception is to do with the environmental impact associated with the mining and burning of coal.