Risk: We've Got it Covered

Article by Adam Duckett

Mariné Botha and Rachel Ramskill share their experiences of working in risk engineering in the Middle East

Following TCE's long-running Career Paths series that profiles chemical engineers who work in breakout sectors or non-traditional roles, we were contacted by engineers at Marsh asking if we’d like to discuss the opportunities available in risk engineering. Given that we first had to ask what risk engineering entails, it was immediately obvious that Mariné Botha and Rachel Ramskill had a lot to teach us. We also used it as an opportunity to discuss their experiences around the shifting demographics of working in the Middle East.

So, what is risk engineering and what drew you to the sector?

Rachel: "Risk engineering is a unique application of engineering, as the role is to evaluate and provide an opinion on what could go wrong, how likely is this to happen, and what is the consequence. My role as a Risk Engineer at Marsh in Dubai involves providing a third party opinion on the risk quality and also quantifying this from a physical and financial aspect so we can help insurers and clients to understand these risks. This involves site tours, conducting interviews with key departments and reviewing procedures, followed by desktop work to analyse the information and to produce the outputs.

"Before joining Marsh, I worked for an oil refinery in the UK, where I was a process engineer, but then also undertook more economic-focused roles. I was drawn to risk engineering because of the diversity of opportunities it offered, from learning a new industry to applying my knowledge and experience to other energy sectors, such as renewables and petrochemicals. Chemical engineers are well suited to risk engineering as they can bridge the gap between the technical world and the insurance world to enable clients and underwriting markets to understand their exposures."

Mariné: "After I graduated with a degree in chemical engineering in 2008, I spent the first few years of my career in the nuclear research industry in South Africa. I then had the privilege of moving to Dubai in 2011 where I pursued a diploma in risk management, a subject I had a key interest in. Keen to find a position where I would be able to apply both my chemical engineering degree and newfound knowledge in risk management, an internet search led me to Marsh’s risk engineering department. I was aware of the application of chemical engineering in other industries but the opportunities within the world of insurance were unknown to me. What really excited me about risk engineering was that I would be able to apply these principles while supporting a range of clients, improve risk quality and potentially prevent losses. It has also been an incredible opportunity to learn about topics outside of the typical scope of a chemical engineer, such as mechanical integrity, maintenance, loss modelling and insurance of course, while working with a diverse range of clients from smaller standalone sites to some of the largest national and international oil companies."

Rachel: "Having the experience of working in a technical role within the energy industry really develops a skill set that is sought after and can bring a great deal of benefit to many companies. I would therefore encourage others to look at similar opportunities which might not be immediately apparent when working in a front-line technical role."

Rachel Ramskill: "I was drawn to risk engineering because of the diversity of opportunities it offered"

What are the main responsibilities in your current role?

Rachel: "I am based in the Dubai office, although the clients I work with are based outside of the United Arab Emirates (UAE). My key day-to-day responsibilities are working with our energy and power clients, and insurers to understand their financial exposure in the event of an incident. We do this by working closely with the client to ensure we understand their operations and commercial business, then translate this into quantified loss exposures. The type of exposures we are looking at are low probability, but high consequence process safety incidents that have happened in industry, for example plant fires or vapour cloud explosion. To give an example, we will evaluate the client’s operations to identify credible vapour cloud explosion scenarios. We then use specialised software to calculate the extent and value of the property damage to determine the financial impact of this event.

"We also offer advice on how they could reduce this exposure either from a likelihood or severity perspective. This is beneficial for clients as myself and my colleagues are experienced within the energy industry, therefore not only do we understand the difficulties in managing the day-to-day operations of a site, but also can provide advice on what best practice looks like in industry. This provides real benefit to clients who do not always have the systems and processes in place to provide suitable protection against losses. As engineers, we understand the technical aspects of the sites' operations and therefore can provide relevant and detailed advice to our clients."

Mariné: "I previously worked out of the Dubai office where I was involved in in property damage risk engineering surveys. I recently moved to Doha where I am more involved in data analytics for energy and power clients. We look at the client’s risk management performance across a number of areas, such as risk quality rating, peer benchmarking and recommendation performance to help clients develop meaningful KPIs to steward performance. These analyses are also useful when insurance is sought for a client to give the underwriters a third party view of a site’s risks and loss prevention practices. This information is used to seek the most favourable insurance terms for our clients and to help underwriters determine how much of their insurance capacity they are able to put at risk. During a risk engineering survey a risk engineer might raise recommendations for a client’s consideration to address any risks or opportunities for improvement versus international standards and best practice. A key part of our data analytics is to consider whether there are any recurring or common recommendation themes or trends across a client’s assets, which we use to facilitate sharing of best practice and/or to consider the focus of a client’s risk engineering programme. Chemical engineering knowledge and experience means we can translate the data into meaningful insights and advice for our clients.

"I am also involved in other risk assessments, such as terrorism loss reviews."

How have you seen the demographics shift in risk engineering?

Mariné: "When I started my career with Marsh in 2012 I was the only female risk engineer in our team and I believe the first and only female energy risk engineer in the Middle East. Since joining we have employed several female engineers and currently the female to male ratio in Dubai office is around 1:1, with a ratio of around 1:2 across the Middle East and North Africa. The demographics of our team has also shifted as we are seeing a greater intake of engineers with 5–10 years of industry experience. Similar trends have been observed with some of our regional clients with a number of potential driving factors, such as nationalisation and other social initiatives such as investment in female education in the past few years. However, research shows that women’s participation in parts of the region in technical roles is not yet on par with men.

"Within Marsh and in some countries that are members of the Gulf Cooperation Council we are seeing more women in senior positions. I think one of the key benefits of having more women in the team is that new joiners have female role models to look up to and colleagues that they can more easily relate to.

"I would also say that, partly due to Covid-19, Marsh has like many others been more open to flexible working arrangements such as remote work and flexible hours, which in my experience has supported some working moms to find a better balance in their family and professional lives. Such initiatives in my view have the potential to drive greater female employment and retention rates and support career progression."

Rachel: "Having recently joined the risk engineering team, I haven’t got direct experience of the longer-term trends in the industry, however on a local level we have recently seen a number of new, female engineers joining the team. Personally, I think this is reflective of the trends across the wider engineering industry as we see younger females taking up the sciences and that therefore have the right experience and skill set to join the industry. Gender should never be perceived to be a barrier to entering any industry, therefore we should continue to show young people the range of opportunities available in the sciences through the removal of stereotypes."

Mariné Botha: "When I started my career with Marsh in 2012 I was the only female risk engineer in our team and I believe the first and only female energy risk engineer in the Middle East"

How does working in Doha and Dubai compare to where you’ve worked previously?

Rachel: "Before I moved to the UAE I had some pre-conceptions about the location and the potential for restrictions on what I can and cannot do. However, I have been pleasantly surprised that I can live a very similar lifestyle to what I did in the UK, I think this is helped by a large ex-pat community within the UAE. 

"In my personal experience, I have not had any negative situations where I feel my gender has impacted my work in any way. I recognise this isn’t always the case, but I feel it is important to share and highlight that female engineers can come into this industry in the Middle East and have a positive experience."

Mariné: "Ten years ago when I started, special approval would be required to have a female carry out risk engineering surveys in certain parts of the region, whereas my experience now is that sending a female to most sites is no longer treated any different to sending a male.

"My first impressions of being one of very few women on site, along with my own insecurities, concerns and lack of understanding of some of the cultural differences made me feel anxious initially. However as I began to understand some of the cultural differences, and gained confidence in my own abilities I started to experience the work environment a lot more favourably and found it welcoming.

"I can echo what Rachel has said, I have no recent personal experiences where my gender impacted my work or the opportunities I was given, but realise others might have very different experiences.

"In recent years we have also seen policy changes to address gender equality within Marsh which has personally improved the experience at work."

What recommendations do you have for those looking to work in the region?

Rachel: "Personally, I found the move and transition to the UAE fairly smooth once Covid-induced border closures were removed! There are always a few teething problems with visas, but having a company with a proven track-record of bringing in ex-pats into the region was certainly helpful. My advice would be to make sure you fully consider all of the impacts of moving away, including personal aspects and ways to build a support network away from home friends and family."

Mariné: "It is rich in diversity and presents a unique opportunity and experience personally and professionally. Be conscious of cultural differences and rules and regulations even across different countries in the region, but by no means let it put you off. Know your strengths and have the courage to put yourself forward for new opportunities."

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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