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Gulf Research Program awards grants to improve safety culture in offshore oil and gas

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Oilfield Technology,

The Gulf Research Program (GRP) of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has announced US$7.25 million in grant awards for eight projects focused on strengthening safety culture in the offshore oil and gas industry.

Oil and gas production in deepwater are inherently hazardous activities that can fail in complex, catastrophic ways, as tragically shown by the Deepwater Horizon explosion in the Gulf of Mexico and the 87-day oil spill that ensued 10 years ago. While many factors led to this disaster, several reports issued in the aftermath emphasised the need for an improved safety culture within the offshore oil and gas industry. A robust safety culture has many dimensions, including leadership commitment to safety values and actions, a safe environment for raising concerns or reporting incidents and “near misses,” and organisational policies and practices that encourage employees to make safe decisions.

The GRP’s Safer Offshore Energy Systems (SOES) Grants 4 supports projects that produce datasets, strategies, and tools for measurement that will promote a culture of safety in the oil and gas industry. As the industry will continue to be a vital part of the Gulf Coast economy, this work is urgently needed to ensure protection of people and the environment.

“A culture of safety has many characteristics,” said Kelly Oskvig, senior programme officer for the Gulf Research Program’s SOES initiatives. “Through this grants competition, we hope to provide the tools to help strengthen some of those characteristics as well as answer a few critical questions: What best practices can oil and gas adapt from other high-risk industries? How can an organisation measure improvement of its safety culture? How can data be used to better understand the dangers?”

The eight SOES projects are:

Bringing High-Reliability Safety Culture Decisions into Focus: Training with Interactive Fuzzy Cognitive Mapping
Award Amount: US$684 054
Project Director: Antonie Jetter (Portland State University)
Project Team Affiliation: Portland State University in cooperation with Louisiana State University
Overview: Several studies have called for offshore oil and gas workers to adopt best practices from other high-risk industries, including the nuclear power plant and air traffic control industries. However, frontline managers remain unaware of these external best practices, or have trouble customising them for offshore oil and gas operations. Inspired by so-called “management flight simulators,” this project creates an interactive online platform that allows users to model responses to everyday safety threats. The platform, FOCOS (Fuzzy Operational Cognition of Safety Culture), lets users add, intensify, or stop interventions, and see how their decisions impact the overall system and safety culture. To inform future research and pilot programmes, FOCOS will also collect data on uncertain and controversial safety practices and differences in training needs among different users (by role, professional background, and years of experience).

Employee Well-Being and Mindfulness as Predictors of Process and Personal Safety
Award Amount: US$828 113
Project Director: Christiane Spitzmueller (University of Houston)
Project Team Affiliation: University of Houston in cooperation with Robert Gordon University
Overview: Mindfulness exercises are shown to improve employee mental and physical health, but there has been limited work to leverage mindfulness exercises for offshore safety. This academia-industry partnership project will examine how mindfulness affects safety culture, focusing on perceptions of supervisory safety culture, worker situational awareness, employee burnout and well-being, and employee participation in and compliance with safety behaviours. The team will develop 90 minute “train-the-trainer” programmes, along with survey tools to measure program effectiveness so supervisors can guide their employees through mindfulness techniques they can use before their shifts and before high-risk situations.

Safety Reporting Action Program for Offshore Oil and Gas Industry in the Gulf of Mexico Award Amount: $755,851
Project Director: Daniel Adjekum (University of North Dakota)
Project Team Affiliation: University of North Dakota in cooperation with United States Coast Guard
Overview: In the offshore environment, minor workplace accidents tend to go unreported because individuals fear blame. However, several minor unreported safety risks can be precursors for catastrophic accidents, as was the case with the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. Offshore oil and gas safety regulators have recognised the need for a more proactive reporting system – and a culture shift – that encourages workers to report mistakes and near misses, identify the potential for error, and even stop work when needed. This project will assess the viability of an offshore safety action reporting system modelled after the aviation safety action program (ASAP) by using focus groups, interviews, and a quantitative survey of about 1500 personnel. It will also assess gaps between the perceived level of safety reporting culture and the actual level of safety reporting in the Gulf of Mexico oil and gas industry.

Measuring and Improving Blended Project-Safety Culture in Operations of Offshore Oil and Gas Facilities
Award Amount: US$733 631
Project Director: Ivan Damnjanovic (Texas A&M University)
Project Team Affiliation: Texas A&M University in cooperation with Proactima
Overview: Measuring organisational commitment to safety is particularly challenging in the offshore oil and gas industry, as 80 percent of personnel are third-party contractors. The industry’s reliance on external contractors means team members may not share the same training, experiences, and even language. Rather than measuring safety culture in broad terms, this project aims to develop quantifiable measurements of safety culture improvements that are specific to three categories: activity, team (for example, contractors versus onshore-based specialists), and the type of offshore installation. It will also provide a tool for measuring safety culture while work orders are being planned and executed; and a tool to help offshore plant managers specify project requirements (for example, communication requirements) that could improve safety culture.

Aggregating Essential Exposure Data to Enable Meaningful Analysis of Safety Incident Rates Around the World
Award Amount: US$739 992
Project Director: Xiaozhi Wang (American Bureau of Shipping)
Project Team Affiliation: American Bureau of Shipping in cooperation with Safetec
Overview: Historically, government agencies, industry groups, and companies from around the world have collected offshore incident data to help understand and improve safety conditions. However, these datasets were collected at different times and used different terminology and data languages. This project aims to provide recommendations for viable data science technologies that could be employed to aggregate these disparate datasets, and establish common goals and metrics, to improve understanding of safety risks and trends in the Gulf of Mexico. The desired final product — a comprehensive global offshore incident dataset — will help set a foundation for predictive modelling initiatives. The data could inform government and industry decision-making processes such as permitting emerging technologies, setting new regulations or policies to mitigate risk, and choosing exploration projects.

Development of an Evidence-Based, Multilevel Safety Culture Assessment Battery for the Offshore Industry
Award Amount: US$1 130 591
Project Director: Scott Tannenbaum (The Group for Organizational Effectiveness)
Project Team Affiliation: The Group for Organizational Effectiveness in cooperation with the University of Connecticut, Rice University, McGovern Medical School at UTHealth, and Offshore Operators Committee
Overview: Safe behaviour in the oil and gas industry is influenced by individual safety readiness; the team’s safety assumptions, values, and beliefs; team leader and team member behaviours; and the organisation’s safety practices and policies. This project will develop a set of evidence-based assessment tools to diagnose, measure, and track these four factors. It will also provide actionable tips and guidance for addressing potential deficiencies, which existing measurement tools lack. The team’s deliverables will be made publicly available to interested organisations, associations, and researchers.

EMPOWER Safety Dashboards: Evaluate, Measure, and Promote Offshore Worker Engagement and Readiness
Award Amount: US$943 008
Project Director: Stephanie Payne (Texas A&M University)
Project Team Affiliation: Texas A&M University in cooperation with Upstreams Forensics LLC
Overview: Traditionally, safety culture is measured with a lengthy annual employee survey. Survey methodology is fraught with limitations including low response rates, considerable time required to summarise and interpret data, and failure to capture meaningful changes between surveys. This project aims to develop and test field-friendly measurement tools, including experience sampling methodology and wearable devices; and to design, develop, and evaluate the value of a dashboard called EMPOWER (Evaluate, Measure, Promote Offshore Worker Engagement and Readiness). The EMPOWER dashboard will display worker psychological (safety culture) and physiological (lack of fatigue or readiness) data on an interactive interface that supervisors can access daily to support organisational decision making. The research team will evaluate the extent to which supervisors value and anticipate using such previously unavailable data in real time; as well as the data’s impact on hypothetical offshore scenario-based decision-making.

Developing an Integrated Offshore Energy Industry Safety Culture Evaluation, Benchmarking, and Improvement Toolbox
Award Amount: US$1 440 330
Project Director: Kevin McSweeney (American Bureau of Shipping)
Project Team Affiliation: American Bureau of Shipping in cooperation with Lamar University and the University of Houston
Overview: There is a general perception in the offshore industry that more rules, regulations, and procedures are unlikely to improve safety performance. Instead, the industry needs a better understanding of the social and organisational factors that foster professionalism during routine and emergency situations. This project aims to develop a roadmap that the industry can use to evaluate and improve organisational safety culture, reduce unsafe behaviours, improve individual performance, and reduce management system failures, near misses, and accidents. Deliverables will include a safety culture evaluation toolbox, and data gathering and analytic methods to identify what actions have been, or could be, successful in improving safety.

All projects selected underwent an external peer-review process.

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