Mike Seymour, Global QHSSE Director, Speedcast, explains why safety in the oil and gas industry is a top priority.
Oil and gas has one of the most dangerous working environments of any industry. During the oil and gas boom from 2003 to 2013, the US saw exceptional growth, doubling the size of its workforce and increasing the number of oil rigs by 71%. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), during this time period, the number of work-related fatalities in the industry increased 27.6%, with an average of 108 deaths per year and nearly 1200 deaths overall.
This image is a clear example of an unsafe work scenario. Here, there are two safety hazards occurring at once. While these workers are more than 10 m above the water, they do not have the proper fall protection equipment. Additionally, the scaffolding on which they are standing does not have railings.
Types of industry hazards
When it comes to the hazardous environment, some of the top reasons for injury and death among industry workers in oil and gas include:
- Vehicle accidents – Not all hazards take place out on a rig. Car accidents involving oil and gas transport vehicles can cause serious injury and death.
- Equipment accidents – Worksites typically house heavy machinery and aside from malfunctions, an inexperienced or distracted worker can be at risk of being caught in, caught between or struck by this equipment.
- Explosions and fires – By nature, oil and gas are volatile elements and something as small as a spark from a cell phone can cause these elements to ignite.
- Falls – Improper or inadequate guard rails and other safe guards can lead to harm from slips, trips and falls on decks and rigs.
- Chemical exposure – Workers often deal with toxic chemicals, and improper handling and containment can lead to leaks and dangerous exposure.
- Improper training – Improperly trained workers and technicians can cause any number of the hazards listed above, which makes it vital to properly train employees before sending them off to a worksite where they could put themselves or others in danger.
Why a culture built on safety is important
Given these types of hazards, it is critical that all work is done safely and to accomplish this requires more than rules and procedures. It requires a culture where safety is integrated into doing the job correctly. Establishing a culture based on safety puts employees first, and can help save a company time and money in the long run. With many worksites located offshore, some managers may be forced to make decisions that, while unfavourable at the time, could save lives. An example of this occurred a few years ago on an oil well located offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. The company that owned the well had been receiving good press and was pleased with the project’s progress. With just 600 m to go in the drilling process, they began experiencing pressure spikes in the well bore. The drilling manager, believing the risk of continuing to be too dangerous, made the decision to stop drilling and cap the well – losing the company millions of dollars. Because this company’s culture was built on safety, this manager possibly saved many lives, without hesitation and without the worry of repercussions. Although it was a huge financial loss, the drilling manager was empowered to make a decision that impacted the lives of their employees and customers. Many companies are transitioning to a culture based on safety, a move that will not only benefit the company, but the end customer as well.
Employees are taught about safety rules and regulations during training, including the proper safety equipment and attire that must be worn on the worksite.
What does this mean for the customer?
With some of the incidents that have occurred over the past few years, and updated regulations from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), there has been an increased focus on compliance by the operator and it is now mandatory to have a safety and environmental management system. The BSEE and U.S. government hold the operator responsible for the actions and conduct of its contractors. In other words, a poorly performing contractor can get the operator in trouble with the regulatory agency if they do not operate to the appropriate level of safety standards. Because of this, a customer cannot afford to have a risky contractor work for them because that would impact their safety record and put them at risk of being shut down. Poor safety performance can result in fines or complete loss of revenue if the BSEE decides to take action and stop work on the offending vessel.
Night shift work increases the risk for injury by 30% in manufacturing environments.
What can companies do to increase safety in the field?
Having a reputable contractor with a safety-centric culture is becoming more and more of a necessity not just to get the job done, but to get it done the right way. One company that sets safety as a top priority is Speedcast. One of Speedcast’s major efforts over the past two years to increase safety in the field has been to promote active engagement in observational reporting and frontline actions among employees – and it appears to be working. In 2015, Speedcast had over 50 percent reduction in injury reports and is on target for another 40 to 45 percent reduction this year.
Speedcast has implemented several tactics to achieve this reduction, including employee concern reports, 'Stop Work Authority' and more.
Stop Work Authority
'Stop Work Authority' is a Speedcast policy that states that every employee has the right and responsibility to stop work that they believe to be unsafe. If they report a situation in which the work is unsafe, they have the right to decline further work in the area until the situation has been rectified. In these situations, Speedcast fully supports its technicians and works with the client to find a safe and appropriate solution.
A recent example of the implementation of this policy stems from Speedcast’s effort to improve personnel barriers around antennas with radio frequency on cruise ships. This concern started when a Speedcast technician noticed a crew member walking through an area near one of these antennas, putting himself in danger by proximity. The technician stopped the crew member and had the captain barricade the area. This eventually led to a technology investigation where Speedcast further defined what the safe locations are based on the transmitting of the antenna.
Another method has been to encourage employees to complete concern reports. These reports allow employees to report situations that are, or cold be, dangerous and are methodologies by which Speedcast can take direct action on safety. They can be done by any technician in any location and sent back to headquarters. Speedcast offshore field personnel have run with this and in combination with their “Stop Work Authority,” Speedcast has seen significant improvements in injury rates.
When these concern reports were first implemented, the initial data received were small infractions that needed to be addressed. As the personnel and experience grew, the suggested safety modifications grew with them. Now concern reports include engineering suggestions, procedure designs and process improvements. Speedcast personnel have really begun to look at it from an active perspective in their job role – “How does this apply to me?” and “How does this apply to my customer?” They are looking to apply the best practices, whether it is for Speedcast workers or customers.
Field personnel work in the most hazardous part of the industry, but with these reports, offshore oil and gas has made great strides in injury reduction. As the number of concern reports has increased over the past few years, the injury rate has decreased significantly. Globally, Speedcast has only had one field injury this year - a technician driving in the city.
In conjunction with their culture of safety, Speedcast ensures all personnel are fully trained before they are sent out to a job site. Along with their extensive technical training, Speedcast technicians go through at least three solid weeks of safety training before they are allowed to go offshore. Overall, personnel receive between 40 and 80 hours’ worth of safety training each year just to stay compliant with industry regulations and requirements. This includes everything from how to transfer between a vessel and rig using a swing rope or basket, to helicopter crash escape training, to putting out fires and first aid CPR certification.
Empowering field technicians
As the face of Speedcast among clients, field technicians are vital to enforcing safety. These technicians may be stationed on a customer vessel or rig in the middle of the ocean as the sole Speedcast representative, and as such, must be professional and proactive in monitoring for safety hazards. Speedcast empowers its technicians by standing behind their decisions, should they need to implement “Stop Work Authority” – even if it goes against the client’s wishes. Preventing an accident is worth it.
Intrinsically safe equipment
Another area where Speedcast promotes safety is through its intrinsically safe equipment. Due to the class division areas where work typically takes place, carrying electronic devices that are not intrinsically safe can put personnel at risk. Speedcast has taken steps to ensure that the electronic devices its technicians carry, including any mobile communication devices, can be used in a flammable or explosive environment without causing sparks that could ignite the volatile atmosphere. A regular cell phone can spark and cause a fire. To combat this, many rigs have regulations in place that prevent these devices from being carried in and around the working environment. In an industry where communication can be vital to the work and safety of its employees, Speedcast ensures that they and their clients can get in touch with their technicians even when they are out working on a vessel.
Safety minutes prior to meetings
Speedcast also implements safety minutes prior to each meeting. These minutes go out to employees every week via email and are pulled from concern reports. While many companies create safety minutes or reports to share with employees, they often have no relevance to the employees on a base level. By using ideas submitted through concern reports by employees, Speedcast provides relevant and engaging content for the company as a whole that is more interesting to read.
Employees in the field
Recently, Speedcast technicians initiated a “Stop Work Authority” decision at a customer site. The employees noticed work that was not up-to-par with safety regulations, stopped the work and notified the manager. Rather than being chastised for stopping work and wasting time, the technicians were congratulated. In one such instance, the client gathered the whole crew together to applaud the decision. To thank them for their proactiveness and dedication to the safety of the crew, the client awarded the Speedcast employees with gift certificates.
When it comes down to it, every company has smart people who are dedicated to their jobs. However, the difference lies in the culture the company has built. Success stems from a culture where employees are empowered to stop work and take millions of dollars in losses without fear of losing their job to ensure other employees, customers and partners go home in the same shape they arrived to work in that day. At Speedcast, safety starts with a technician in the field, working offshore alone, representing the company and taking action when necessary.
To find out more about Speedcast's solutions for the oil and gas industry, visit: www.speedcast.com
Read the article online at: https://www.oilfieldtechnology.com/hse/21042017/speedcast-prioritising-safety/