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Behaviour-based safety panel: Leadership priorities, worker empowerment remain critical to HSE success

Posted on 01 October 2010

Setting the scene for the panel session on behaviour-based safety at the IADC Drilling HSE Europe Conference in Amsterdam this week, moderator John de Lange, VP well engineering & operations – BG Brazil, said that significant progress has been made across most fronts but suggested that more effort could be made with processes.

Using the Swiss cheese model, he said it was clear that, while there are a significant number of barriers in place designed to assure safety and prevent incidents, occasionally holes in the system “cheese” could line up, creating the potential for an accident.

Mr de Lange argued that the Macondo disaster was a “very crude wakeup call similar to Piper Alpha,” indicating that more work needed to be done.

He told conference delegates: “If anyone thinks that the world continues as it did before, I think he will be mistaken. Lots of changes will be needed. And if you compare the Texas City incident and process learnings versus personal behavioural learnings, in Macondo a similar list of elements will be seen.

“The question therefore is, how do we make sure we get the balance right between process safety and personal/behavioural-based safety?”

Hans J Johansen, chief engineer QHSE at DONG Energy E&P, warned that companies have to be honest about where they place safety in terms of priority.

“Everybody in this room (some 200 delegates) would say safety is the number one priority,” Mr Johansen said, adding tongue-in-cheek: “But all the companies that not here today have safety as their number two priority, so that’s why they’re not here.”

Citing a series of apparently real North Sea incidents, he talked of mixed messages. On one hand, while management pushes for a strong safety culture, sometimes this does not translate correctly to the rig floor.

A rig might be working at a high dayrate, and the pressure is on to get the job done rapidly. The result may be that rig floor personnel will take shortcuts, perhaps with ultimately catastrophic results.

A supervisor may give in to pressure from the crew saying that they need their sleep but that oversensitive fire and gas detectors keep tripping and waking them up.

“The supervisor says, ‘OK, I’ll inhibit the automatic fire alarms,’ ” Mr Johansen said. “Of course this is an old-time story. If you heard about it, what would you do? Would you accept it, tolerate it, saying I feel sorry for the guys, it’s dangerous but that’s OK, let’s leave it? Can you inhibit fire alarms just like that?”

Steve Beckett, manager behavioural HSE & SD for Shell International Petroleum, stressed that quality effective leadership is a critical aspect in terms of influencing attitudes on safety; this was identified in an annual survey of all staff at Shell.

Mr Becket talked of a correlation between quality of leadership and the safety performance of different offshore assets.

“Of course, correlations don’t always prove cause and effect, but I’m convinced that they are very closely linked; and where we have good leadership, we’re going to have good safety performance. And where leadership is not so good, we don’t get that good safety performance.

“But leadership is not easy, and there are lots of courses. It’s not a science, it’s an art; and leaders face some difficult choices and dilemmas.

“Leaders are role models. And whether we choose to be or not, people listen to leaders. We have no choice in that; but what we do have is we can choose what behaviours we want to model.

“And very importantly, leaders are judged by the things they do and say, not by their intent.”

Lisbeth Norup Fromling, senior director QMHSE/IT, Maersk Drilling, said it was important to ensure that, whatever the models applied, new variances are taken into account, including wherever scope for risk-taking is identified.

She stressed that the need for “learning at the moment” and empowerment to act are “extremely important” as they could help keep an otherwise minor problem from escalating to a major incident.

“It is so important that people know that they are empowered and that they use that empowerment during their daily work,” Ms Fromling added.

Ben van der Riet, senior consultant at DuPont Sustainable Solutions, rounded off the session by talking of a passion for safety.

Challenging his audience, he asked what a company really means when it says that safety is its number one priority.

“More important than production?” he asked. “Yes, that’s what it means. More important than quality? Yes, that’s what it means.

“Wrong, I don’t believe that. It’s as important as all these other business parameters. Because if safety overrules all the other parameters like cost, quality, uptime and whatever, you’re probably the safest company to go bankrupt.

“I’d like to rephrase that. Safety is the most important; we will never ever do anything without considering safety, or jeopardising safety. That’s a different approach.

“And if you ever have to go and inform a family that one of their loved ones is not coming home tonight, that’s when safety management moves from technical safety management to emotional safety management. And that’s where it needs to be; people need to see and feel that you’re concerned about their safety.”

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