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What's the drill?

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Oilfield Technology,

Safety in the oil and gas industry has come a long way. Thanks to the tremendous strides and advancements on all fronts: in technology, labour policies and protocols, and workforce development.

In the US alone, this improvement is reflected by the 26% decrease in fatalities in 2016 of those working in mining, quarrying and oil and gas industries, as reported by their Bureau of Labour Statistics. Similarly, across the Atlantic, there is a reduction of accidents observed in the United Kingdom. Oil & Gas UK’s 2017 Health and Safety Report stated a significant drop in the non-fatal work injury rate per 100 000 workers in the UK’s oil and gas sector from 430 in 2015 to 415 in 2016.

One of the emerging holistic solutions for process safety in the oil and gas sector today is continuous professional education and training.

Oil & Gas Practice in the Olden Days

As working in the petroleum business entails intrinsic safety risks, it is of paramount importance that the workforce has proper preparation. However, in the olden days, there were no formal safety training centres where workers could learn crucial skills to prevent workplace hazards. In fact, the concept of worker safety was not a prime concern and casualties were treated as a natural occurrence given the perilous practices in energy exploration and refinery.

In the early 1900s, the oil and gas industry started experiencing a boom which continued until the 1960s. During this golden era, the demand for black gold grew by leaps and bounds. Consequently, this was supported by new technologies such as rotary rigs which allowed workers to drill deeper and faster into the earth. With this development, industrial safety began to be more thought through, albeit being confined in the interest of protecting equipment.

Eventually, the issue of workers’ welfare slowly gained grip, with the mainstream media being instrumental in putting a spotlight on the issue. The 1953 Hollywood film Thunder Bay portrayed the potential dangers of offshore drilling and the magnificent efforts of an engineer to safely perform rigging at the Louisiana Gulf. In more recent films, the action-drama movie Deepwater Horizon has brought attention to the horrors of neglecting industrial safety, cinematically recounting the explosion of an offshore drilling rig of the same name.

Training as Part of Safety Plan

By the 70’s, the petroleum business was marked by new market challenges and massive accidents making headlines, prompting the industry and governments to tighten regulatory measures and address the issue of worker safety with a preventive and long-term solution: training.

Training boards were created with the aim to address skill gaps in the industry. This eventually brought about the establishment of various organisations such as Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organization (OPITO), which would set parameters and standards for competence and safety practices in the field.

Safe Live Process Plant

Safety training has also exponentially evolved throughout the years. With the help of simulation; learning and acquiring skills have become more responsive to the current skilled labourer needs of the industry. Simulation-based training is increasingly becoming a preferred litmus test to determine workers’ readiness for the field.

A clear-cut example of simulation-based training for O&G can be experienced at Site Skills Training, an Australian Registered Training Organization (#32531) with flagship campus at Clark Freeport Zone, Philippines. Located at its 300 000 m2 facility, Site Skills Training designed and built a Safe Live Process Plant (SLPP) to safely immerse and train workforces on real-life project conditions and provide competency assessment programmes without disrupting company operations.

Using water and harmless gases, the SLPP mimics the pressurised behaviour of toxic gases and liquid by-products on an actual rig during oil extraction and processing. Under the guidance of subject matter experts, trainees operate on replicated situations without the damaging effects of chemical compounds found on real work sites such as hydrogen sulfide, which is highly dangerous given its colourless, poisonous, and extremely explosive characteristics.

As a simulation-driven training environment, under controlled conditions the SLPP can be wrought to introduce problems that should be solved or managed by the trainees to demonstrate and prove their competency. With this verification approach, one is assured of the worker’s functional and technical abilities, but equally important, of his/her foreseeable performance and proficiency in applying relevant safety skills at work.

Empowering Employees and Economies

In conjunction with the advocacy on industrial safety, SLPP at Site Skills Training Clark promotes skilling of national workforces. The SLPP is a transportable technology and the practices surrounding it can be mirrored in other countries, enabling the exchange of knowledge, and ultimately, the development of the local skills for global capacities. To date, Site Skills Training has reproduced similar safe, scaled-down, and immersive training environments in Papua New Guinea and Myanmar.

With simulation-based training, industries empower workers by providing them a platform where they can progressively enhance their skills and subsequently boost their chances for employability. In turn this influences the growth and expansion of organisations and economies.

While there has been immense improvement in industrial safety practices for the past decades, the industry still has a long way to go. The drill to safety can be daunting but with the industry’s willingness to embrace a culture of lifelong learning and training innovations such as Safe Live Process Plants, stakeholders can envision and contribute to a safe and sustainable oil and gas industry for more generations to come.

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