Home / 2014 / Human factors: the next safety frontier
The average adult brain weighs only 3 lb and measures just 15 cm long. But an astonishing level of complexity is contained within that belies its physical size…

Human factors: the next safety frontier

Non-technical skills emerge as critical element to take drilling safety to next level

By Linda Hsieh, Managing Editor

The drilling industry is increasingly recognizing that training its employees on these six core non-technical skills is as important as training on the technical skills.

The drilling industry is increasingly recognizing that training its employees on these six core non-technical skills is as important as training on the technical skills.

The average adult brain weighs only 3 lb and measures just 15 cm long. But an astonishing level of complexity is contained within that belies its physical size. In fact, neuroscientists are only beginning to figure out the intricacies of how the human brain truly functions. For a highly technical industry like drilling that’s often driven by practical-minded engineers, a concept like human factors that deals with intangible psychological and sociological ideas can seem awfully abstract and distant.

Human factors is neither of those things, however. It’s scientifically proven, and it’s integrally important to everyday drilling operations. Other high-hazard and highly technical industries, including commercial aviation, nuclear, medical and maritime, have already recognized the importance of human factors. Drilling is now embarking on this journey.

“This industry is in its absolute infancy on human factors,” Dr John Thorogood, Senior Technical Advisor with Drilling Global Consultant, said.  Not only have we not figured out how to implement human factors, most of us don’t even understand what it is. Part of the problem is that the term refers to such a broad scope of concepts, it can be difficult for anyone without a PhD in psychology to grasp.

“Human factors is such a vast area. Oftentimes when you talk to people about human factors, you can see the bubble over their head – it’s a vase with flowers in it. They think it’s touchy-feely psychological babble,” Dr Thorogood said.

This graphic shows that the six non-technical skills (bottom right) feed into an organization’s leadership and operational discipline. This leadership/discipline/sense-making triangle summarizes the building blocks of high-reliability organizations. Read more about high-reliability organizations in IADC/SPE 167967, “Threat and Error Management: The Connection Between Process Safety and Practical Action at the Worksite,” presented at the 2014 IADC/SPE Drilling Conference, 4-6 March, Fort Worth, Texas.

This graphic shows that the six non-technical skills (bottom right) feed into an organization’s leadership and operational discipline. This leadership/discipline/sense-making triangle summarizes the building blocks of high-reliability organizations. Read more about high-reliability organizations in IADC/SPE 167967, “Threat and Error Management: The Connection Between Process Safety and Practical Action at the Worksite,” presented at the 2014 IADC/SPE Drilling Conference, 4-6 March, Fort Worth, Texas.

It also doesn’t help that much of the language used around human factors – cognitive bias, for example – sound academic and confusing. Eyes can quickly glaze over when such terms are thrown into a conversation.

However, as other industries have proven, if the drilling industry can make a concerted effort to understand human factors and integrate its concepts into training and operations, significant value can be gained in terms of safety performance – and, ultimately, reduced costs.

Understanding the non-technical skills

In order to make human factors more relatable and easier to grasp, Ian Pollard, Corporate HS&E Manager for UK-based Fairfield Energy, suggests narrowing the focus. “What I’m interested in is how individuals make decisions. Many people within a drilling operation work in complex environments with complex processes. It’s important to look at how human beings operate within that environment, where decisions have to be made quickly and there can be disastrous consequences to making the wrong decision.”

There are six core non-technical skills within the realm of human factors: decision making, communication, teamwork, leadership, situation awareness and performance-influencing factors. The last one is also known as personal resources, and it primarily deals with how people manage stress and fatigue. Although the drilling industry has devoted substantial resources to training its employees in technical skills, it hasn’t paid nearly as much attention to these non-technical skills.

Dr Margaret Crichton, Managing Director for People Factor Consultants, has spent more than a decade helping to train people in these non-technical skills. These people have come from multiple industries, including oil and gas production. In the oil and gas drilling world, however, she still primarily sees non-technical skills being taught only implicitly as a minor add-on to technical training.

John Ash (center), Assistant Rig Manager for the Noble Mick O’Brien, uses the drilling simulator at Noble’s NEXT Center near Houston. Noble uses simulator-based training to coach employees in skills such as listening, communication and stress management.

John Ash (center), Assistant Rig Manager for the Noble Mick O’Brien, uses the drilling simulator at Noble’s NEXT Center near Houston. Noble uses simulator-based training to coach employees in skills such as listening, communication and stress management.

“Nobody really focuses explicitly on how decisions are being made and what are the influences on those decisions. We need to make that far more explicit and help people to understand how they assess situations, how they communicate, how they manage stress, etc,” she said.

The industry has made some progress. In April 2014, the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) issued Report 501, “Crew Resource Management for Well Operations Teams.” The report was commissioned by the OGP Safety Committee and the Human Factors Task Force, a sub-group of the OGP Wells Expert Committee (WEC). The aim was to develop a recommended syllabus for non-technical skills – also known as crew resource management (CRM) skills – required by wells operations personnel.

George Silva, Captain of the Noble Bully I drillship, communicates with a crew member on the rig. Noble has developed several training courses addressing the way its offshore crews interact with each other and with their work environment.

George Silva, Captain of the Noble Bully I drillship, communicates with a crew member on the rig. Noble has developed several training courses addressing the way its offshore crews interact with each other and with their work environment.

“Crew resource management is a type of training that was introduced in the airline industry in the late 1970s after they realized their accidents were not only caused by technical failures or the pilots’ flying skills. They had to look at the pilots’ thinking skills, the way they work together and the way they coped with stress and fatigue and other aspects of psychology that might affect performance,” Dr Rhona Flin, a professor with the Industrial Psychology Research Centre at the University of Aberdeen, said. Her team drafted 501 on behalf of the OGP. “This report lays out the basic guidelines about what this training is, why it should be implemented and how companies might start to do it.”

With the momentum built up by 501, the OGP then began work on 502, a recommended practice that will provide more practical details around CRM training for wells operations personnel. Completion of these guidelines is expected by year-end.

“502 will be much more focused on how the industry can actually implement crew resource management training in a well operations situation,” Steve Kropla, IADC Executive VP of Operational Integrity, said. “It’s going to provide more practical guidance on how to deliver the training, like instructor qualifications and course size.” Mr Kropla serves as Chairman of the WEC Human Factors Task Force, which is leading the 502 project.

Training programs under way

Although OGP 501 and 502 will be the first industry-level guidelines specifically addressing human factors, pockets of activity already exist.

Noble Drilling, for example, has developed several training courses that address the way its offshore crews interact with each other and with their work environment. “We tend to focus on technical training and operational knowledge and skills, which are a critical baseline, and we’ll never stop training on those skills,” Bob Newhouse, VP of Learning and Development for Noble, said. “But now we’re adding a new component to that – how you communicate what you know, how you listen, how you work as a team, how you deal with stress levels and how you understand cultural differences. We want to look at all those relational dynamics around human factors.”

Maersk Training instructors Kim Noe (front) and Denis Edmonds (back) observe student behaviors and actions from the control room behind the drilling simulator during a technical exercise.

Maersk Training instructors Kim Noe (front) and Denis Edmonds (back) observe student behaviors and actions from the control room behind the drilling simulator during a technical exercise.

Advanced simulation technologies have become a significant enabler for non-technical skills training, he added. “When you take a driller off the rig and put him into a simulated environment, he’s going to act pretty identically to the way he does on the rig. It’s a unique opportunity for us to observe his behavior. We can observe and give feedback on things like listening skills, communication and stress management.”

Multiple disciplines can be trained in these environments, including marine and power management. “We can even do it in maintenance situations. For example, we can exert time pressure on a maintenance team with a hands-on exercise, then watch for human factors,” Mr Newhouse said.

Maersk Training also has been using simulation technologies to assist with human factors training. Simulators provide a realistic but safe environment where students can apply human factors theories they’ve learned in the classroom. “Technical and non-technical training are very heavily integrated. It’s difficult to spin one out, which is how it should be because that’s how it impacts drillers in reality when they’re offshore drilling,” Ed Corbett, Human Factors Specialist and Psychologist, said. He estimates that non-technical skills can take 30-40% of a technical drilling course at Maersk Training.

“I believe that the way we integrate technical and non-technical training has a bigger impact. Sometimes when we talk about human factors in a classroom, it can be a little detached. When they’re integrated, it gets more credibility. The participants can see those non-technical skills in a much more concrete way and see how they relate to real-life work,” Mr Corbett said.

Two years ago, TOTAL launched what it calls the T-BOP training in collaboration with the Institute for an Industrial Safety Culture. The initiative focuses on the operator’s chain of command, which is an ordered line of authority that typically includes the drilling supervisor, the drilling superintendent and the drilling manager. “Process safety accidents like Macondo illustrate the failure of a whole process: prevention, detection, diagnosis, etc. This process involves several organizational layers within a company, not just front-line workers and supervisors,” Raphael Waxin, Drilling & Wells Referential Engineer for Drilling & Wells – Methods and Operational Safety at TOTAL, said.

T-BOP training sessions include a blowout simulation game called BOSIG. “This tactical decision game is based on actual story cases that took place inside or outside TOTAL. During BOSIG tabletop exercises, chains of commands are re-created, taken through operational and well control scenarios and asked to make decisions based on available information,” Mr Waxin said.

Technical and non-technical training are heavily integrated at Maersk Training. The company uses advanced simulation technologies to let students practice theories taught in the classroom.

Technical and non-technical training are heavily integrated at Maersk Training. The company uses advanced simulation technologies to let students practice theories taught in the classroom.

“The key is the use of realistic scenarios and conditions that trigger students’ technical as well as non-technical input. Our chains of command make their operational decisions within offices and over the phone. We therefore try to re-create this working environment. Besides this, we are also working on actual simulators that can help us better train our front line. We believe that the use of 3D simulators can also support the reliability of our operations, as demonstrated in other industries,” he continued.

As this training initiative is still new, TOTAL has not yet formalized a non-technical skills assessment process. “For now, our main objective is not to assess non-technical skills capabilities but rather to raise awareness of the basic factors that may affect the quality of operational choices: situation awareness, communication, teamwork, leadership, stress,” Mr Waxin said. “Feedback is primarily focused on the participants’ technical choices, then on the way they made the right or wrong decision during the tactical game.” Written feedback is provided to each chain of command.

“We still have a lot to explore regarding non-technical skills. In this respect, we are assisted by international experts such as Rhona Flin,” Mr Waxin said.

Maersk Training also does not yet do full assessments in its non-technical skills training. Instead of giving students tests that are graded and scored, the instructors use what are called behavioral markers to evaluate good or poor performance. “Behavioral markers can give us a more structured way of assessing the skills they’re demonstrating. We give feedback based on the non-technical skills they demonstrate and to what extent they demonstrate them,” Mr Corbett said.

It’s recognized that the drilling industry does not yet have any industrywide standards for assessment of non-technical skills. Further, it’s recognized that such standards would be a challenge to set, simply because it’s harder to quantify skills like communication and teamwork. “There’s not a test you can take like with technical knowledge,” Mr Newhouse said. “It’s not objectively verifiable in the way that knowledge about a piece of equipment is. This is more qualitative. It’s by observation, coaching and feedback.”

Mr Newhouse urged the industry to think about how standards could be set around human factors, which could ultimately inform an accreditation process for drilling CRM training. “We all know we need to tackle human factors, but what does it need to look like for our industry? The commercial aviation industry has got this pretty well built into the way they approach development and assessment and safety and procedures. We need to do the same thing.”

OGP is already planning Report 503 for next year. It would build on Reports 501/502 and establish behavioral markers for assessing the application of CRM skills in the workplace. For drilling contractor-specific programs, IADC may be the appropriate organization to take on this type of project, Mr Newhouse said, the way it did with the recently launched Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs) project. “A lot of companies are tackling this in some form, but I think everybody is also kind of feeling around in the dark on this – looking for ways to apply human factors and get value out of it. We need to do this collectively against a set of standards so we have maximum impact.”

Automation drives need for human factors engineering

By Linda Hsieh, Managing Editor

To design its NOVOS system, NOV began by conducting an eight-month survey of operator and drilling contractor professionals who are involved in planning and drilling wells. Their input has been applied as the company designs each aspect of its automation platform.

To design its NOVOS system, NOV began by conducting an eight-month survey of operator and drilling contractor professionals who are involved in planning and drilling wells. Their input has been applied as the company designs each aspect of its automation platform.

The great irony of automation is that, as you automate more and more of your operations, your workforce becomes less and less skilled. Therefore, when the need comes for them to intervene – and there will always be a need for humans to intervene – then they will be less capable of doing so than before automation took place.

“I think our technology in automation risks getting ahead of our understanding of how to manage it,” Dr John Thorogood, Senior Technical Advisor with Global Drilling Consultant, said. Looking to the aviation industry, which is ahead of drilling in terms of both automation and human factors, he cited the 2013 crash of Asiana Airlines Flight 214 in San Francisco. “That was a question of pilots who had become totally dependent on the automated systems and got into a situation where they lost track of what the automated systems were doing.”

In today’s drilling industry, automation technologies are advancing more rapidly than ever before. At the same time, the industry is just beginning to understand and implement human factors. As the two trends converge, human factors engineering is emerging as a critical concern.

For example, if the system is capable of automatic sequencing, does it actually display what it’s doing? Does it give the user enough information so the user can follow the actions being taken? Is it always obvious to the user what automatic mode the system is following?

Considerations like these must be made while the automation system is being designed – not after it’s delivered to the rig, Dr Thorogood emphasized. “Automation has a lot of benefits, but it also comes with risks that we need to think through.”

Raphael Waxin, Drilling & Wells Referential Engineer for Drilling & Wells – Methods and Operational Safety at TOTAL, believes that closer collaboration between equipment manufacturers and end users can reduce the occurrence or consequences of errors.

“From the early stages of a design, we could better adapt the working environment, such as the human-machine interface, to the abilities and skills of our crew members. Within the civil aviation industry, manufacturers like Airbus or Boeing and operating companies like Air France have worked separately for a long time. On one side, engineers were designing planes that they thought were cutting edge. On the other side, pilots were receiving planes that they thought were hard to fly,” Mr Waxin said. “More recently, on a project like the A380, engineers and pilots worked hand in hand from the very start. Cockpit design and ergonomics now assist the pilot and, therefore, enhance a higher level of safety and performance.”

National Oilwell Varco (NOV) has moved toward that type of collaboration with the development of its automation platform NOVOS. The team began by interviewing approximately 40 people from operators, drilling contractors and service companies – people who are actually involved in planning and drilling wells – to get their early input. “We really wanted to find out what keeps people up at night, how they plan for what’s coming next and what things they consider when making decisions, etc,” said Merrie Costley, Senior Manager of Global Business Analysis for NOV’s NOVOS Control Team. The data that was collected during the eight-month study has been applied as the company designs each aspect of its automation platform.

“One of the key things that came out of that study is how overwhelmed the guys out in the field are. They’re being bombarded by more and more information as the industry has added more and more screens to the rig,” she said.

“Human factors research shows that the average person can consume five to 10 inputs at any one point in time,” Ms Costley continued. These inputs include psychological, social, physiological and biological elements. Adding more screens with more data as it has come available, without considering what can realistically be consumed, reduces situation awareness rather than enhancing it. “We’ve done a lot of analysis on how we can reduce the amount of information that people on the rig have to deal with. This means we think in a very exception-based way.”

For the driller, then, only information that is critical to the drilling operation is shown on the screen continuously. All other information, as long as everything is OK, is kept off the screen. “You can navigate to this information if something doesn’t look right, but it is not present on the screen at all times,” she said. “The philosophy we use is the user must be able to glance at the screen and glance away knowing whether everything is good or not.”

Conditions or notifications will be prioritized and presented according to risk in a hierarchy. System engineers also contemplate things such as displaying notifications close to other functions to which they are related. All “apps” that run on the NOVOS platform, whether developed by NOV or not, will have consistent presentation of these conditions and notifications.

To keep users informed at all times in case they need to intervene, Ms Costley said, the system will present a running stream of process information. She likes to think of it as the way credits roll after a movie.

“If the user wants to jump back into the operation at any time, they will be able to see exactly where they are in the process and what specific actions are being performed. We’ve put a lot of thought into making sure they have the right information at the right time and in a way that they can understand in order to take appropriate action.”

Defining roles is also important, and not all control systems today consider it. “Today, the driller gets every piece of information.” Ms Costley explained. “As we continue to focus on human factors, we need to start separating roles so that the person gets only what they need in order to do their job.”

Ensuring usability is yet another key issue. “We are adamant about working with the users to make sure they’re getting the information they need in a way that is not confusing,” she said.

Tests are done during development and later with users during field operations to determine reaction time and comprehension. For example, if three alarms on a control system go off simultaneously, how long will it take the user to wade through the incoming information and figure out what’s going on?

Going forward, as the industry moves toward higher levels of automation, Ms Costley said she believes the industry will direct more focus to process concerns.

“We’ll be monitoring what’s happening in the process versus what’s happening with each piece of equipment. You only need to know about equipment if something goes wrong. The industry at large must make a concerted effort to work through what that means and figure out what training is required. This may look significantly different from the training programs of today.”

Human factors ≠ well control training

As human factors concepts begin to be implemented within the drilling industry, experts say it’s important that human factors are not equated to well control training. In other words, companies can’t only train their personnel to use non-technical skills when things go wrong; they need to be aware of human factors even when things are going right.

“We really need to understand normal behavior around what is happening day to day,” Dr Flin with the University of Aberdeen said. “Human factors is about how people normally behave. Do people normally take risks? Do people normally speak up if they’re concerned? Do supervisors urge people to work faster even if it’s not going to be safe?”

She pointed to a term called normalization of deviance, which came out of analyses of the NASA Challenger incident. It refers to how human behaviors can drift to become more risky over time. Because the change happens so slowly, nobody notices it. Eventually, it becomes the normal way of working. “People start to break a bit of a rule, or they don’t comply with something. Over time it becomes normal, and everybody does it,” Dr Flin explained. “That’s why it’s so important to understand what’s happening normally, not only when there is a well control event. What are the pressures on the job? How are people coping with demands?”

The intent here is not to belittle the importance of well control training but to emphasize that human factors must be taken into account in the full cycle.

“I see a real risk that human factors are only being taught in the context of well control,” Dr Thorogood said. “It’s a bit like if you taught non-technical skills to a pilot only to be used in an emergency. You would have no confidence that, in the rare occasions that an emergency occurred, the pilot will call those skills into action. My contention is that, if you sit in the cockpit of an airliner, you will see good human factors behaviors displayed every minute of every flight. In our industry, how do we translate good human factors into routine activity at the wellsite that’s observable every day of every week?”

That may simply require more time. At this point in the industry’s progress on human factors, well control training remains an understandable starting point for many. After all, Macondo and Montara were the genesis for much of the human factors development going on right now.

“The debate is where you put your resources,” Mr Corbett said. “It’s sensible to start with things that link to the biggest hazards in the industry. Yes, it would be fantastic if we can integrate it more widely into day-to-day activities, but if we’re starting from scratch and need to get the ball rolling, I think it’s sensible to focus on the biggest risks.”

It’s bigger and deeper than training

Training is critical, but it’s only a small part of human factors, even within the limited scope of this discussion. In fact, if human factors were relegated to a training class on an employee competencies checklist, little would be achieved. To realize the full value from human factors, it must be integrated into the organizational culture so it’s apparent at all levels.

This can’t be done all at once, and a good place to start may be with incident investigations. Currently, when the industry conducts an investigation after an incident, human factors are lumped into either the “human error” box or the “failure to follow procedure” box. We rarely get to the root cause of what factors might have influenced that person to make the mistake or what made him decide not to follow procedures.

Dr Crichton with People Factor Consultants recalls a visit to a drilling company eight or nine years ago when she asked to see the company’s accident and downtime data. Upon examining the breakdown of contributing factors, she saw a tiny slice of the pie that attributed only 6% of the incidents to human error. However, there was a massive slice that simply said “stuck pipe.”

“I said to them, why did the pipe get stuck? Was it a procedural issue? Was it because someone couldn’t implement the procedure? Was the procedure badly written? Was it a communication failure? Until the industry can understand what the human factors and non-technical skills are, we’ll continue to get data that says 6% human error,” Dr Crichton said. In contrast, aviation readily recognizes that human factors contribute to 75-80% of things going wrong, she added.

This goes back to the core of human factors – understanding how people make decisions. When people look back at incidents that have already occurred, they invariably see individuals making decisions that seem strange in hindsight. “With train crashes or plane crashes, for example, you often blame the driver or pilot because it’s easy to attribute those incidents to a poor decision,” Mr Pollard with Fairfield Energy said. “Very often, the investigation will conclude that he shouldn’t have made that decision that way. But when this happens so often, you begin to wonder, why are apparently well-trained and experienced people making those wrong decisions?”

Mr Pollard points to the work by Nobel Prize-winning psychologist Daniel Kahneman, which highlights the ways the human mind works that consistently lead individuals to make apparently bizarre choices.

“This bizarre decision-making is called cognitive bias, and you can replicate it in experiments time and again. The brain is working to do something entirely correctly, but in a certain set of circumstances, it produces behaviors that can lead to catastrophic decisions being made,” Mr Pollard explained. “In complex environments such as drilling and well operations, you can see there’s a very real potential for these cognitive biases to appear and result in a significant safety incident.”

Not only do we have to realize the potential of such decision-making, we have to realize that they don’t happen through the fault of any particular individual. “When something goes wrong in an environment like drilling, where there are a lot of highly trained and experienced people, there’s a tendency to think that individual got it wrong on that day. We tend to believe that, under the same circumstances, somebody else would have gotten it right and we wouldn’t have a problem.

“What I’m saying is, if you really understand the circumstance around an incident, it was inevitable that cognitive bias would appear and that mistake would happen,” Mr Pollard continued. “To me, that’s what human factors is all about. It’s being aware of how these circumstances arise and the effect of the cognitive biases. You can’t prevent these biases from happening, but you can plan to allow for them and you can build in checks and controls to mitigate their potential negative effects.”

Let’s take the example of a technician from a service company who was running a downhole tool on a rig. Although this well-trained, technically competent employee had successfully run this piece of equipment 15 times before without any problems, on this particular day he did not run it correctly, resulting in a safety incident.

As the company conducted its investigation, it found out that the technician, who was in the Army Reserve, had just received a letter stating he was to be redeployed to a combat zone. This employee was quite competent and had proven his competency on multiple jobs, but on this particular day, he didn’t have his head in the game and didn’t realize how it would affect his performance.

Awareness of factors that influence performance, including stress and fatigue, can be critical. “We have to raise awareness that stress happens to everybody and that our thresholds for stress can change depending on life events,” Mr Corbett said. In this example, stress management skills could have come into play. The technician could have recognized signs and symptoms of his own stress, or someone else on his team could’ve recognized that he wasn’t operating as he normally does. If the latter, then those team members could have spoken up and communicated their concerns. “These non-technical skills are not standalone. You can’t really have one in isolation because of the way they interlink,” Mr Corbett said.

Was Macondo our Tenerife?

Even with an incident as serious as Macondo, despite all the investigative work that has gone into this one incident, there hasn’t been an official governmental report linking the incident to human factors, Dr Thorogood said. The book “Disastrous Decisions: The Human and Organisational Causes of the Gulf of Mexico Blowout” by Andrew Hopkins is so far the only major published work analyzing how human factors was a root cause in Macondo.

“The Tenerife crash that killed 583 people gave the aviation industry its moment of clarity,” Dr Thorogood said, referencing the 1977 incident on the island of Tenerife, part of the Canary Islands. KLM Flight 4805 and Pan Am Flight 1736 collided on the runway after a series of miscommunications.

Macondo should have done the same for the drilling industry, he said, but “because there isn’t a compelling official report linking the accident to human factors, the industry doesn’t have the evidence. However, what’s interesting is the industry has sort of implicitly recognized that it was the cause, because we’re nevertheless starting to do something about it.”

Volumes 3 and 4 of a report from the US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) are expected to analyze Macondo from a human factors point of view. It is not known when these volumes will be released, but Dr Thorogood is hopeful that they will clearly demonstrate a link. That would not only validate ongoing work in human factors, but it also would give the industry the wherewithal to more explicitly tackle human factors from all levels of an organization.

As it is, acceptance of human factors remains far from widespread. In fact, for some people, this type of intangible concept can make them uncomfortable.

“Engineers like to think that you put things together in a system, and that system works, whether it’s people or drill bits,” Mr Pollard said. “Unfortunately, human beings operate in a much more complex way. It’s not as deterministic as people would like to think.”

Management also can reject human factors, believing this type of training to be beyond their front-line workers. “We can’t underestimate the curiosity and motivation of the people in our workforce. Managers can be very quick to dismiss human factors as too intellectual or too touchy-feely for the guys at the workplace, but that would be wrong. It would be doing the workforce a great disservice,” Dr Thorogood said. He’s seen from personal experience front-line workers getting fired up when they learn about the psychology behind human factors. “They get very enthusiastic because it explains so many dumb things they’ve done or seen their colleagues do. It’s like the scales falling from their eyes.”

Some managers also embrace the philosophy that a well-written set of procedures is the answer. Just make sure your employees follow those procedures to a T, they say. But that may be far too simplistic. “Procedures are written by people far away from the workplace, and they’re put into practice by people at the workplace,” Dr Thorogood explained. “However good you are, there is always a gap between the work that is imagined at the planning phase and the work that actually has to be done at the workplace.”

Unless you’re routinely auditing successfully completed operations to see how close they were to the actual procedure and unless your operations take place in a static environment, then you’re relying on your employees to bridge the inevitable gaps. Bottom line: Procedures is a critical component to safety, but it won’t work without the right human factors.

Operator, regulator requirements

With the work that’s being done by the OGP through Report 501 and the upcoming Reports 502 and 503, drilling contractors are starting to ponder the likelihood of human factors requirements from operators. Most seem to agree that it is likely to happen, though not in the near term.

IADC’s Mr Kropla, who is leading the OGP 502 project, said he hopes that operators will not push for contractor requirements right away. “If it’s not implemented carefully, we could wind up with a bunch of training providers selling anything as CRM courses,” he cautioned. Rather than forcing companies to address human factors, it would be better to encourage them to do it through understanding. Ultimately, as with any tool that industry groups put out, whether it’s the OGP human factors guidelines or the IADC KSAs, “the individual companies have to decide to adopt and use it.”

Fairfield Energy’s Mr Pollard emphasized collaboration over requirements, noting that operators will have to work together with contractors on the appropriate training. A typical drilling operation involves multiple companies. The entire team, no matter whether they’re from the operator or a contractor, must have a shared understanding of human factors and how to address them in the operation, he said.

Regulator requirements around human factors also do not appear imminent, although most believe that it’s an inevitability. In the meantime, companies that make an effort to understand and implement human factors now are likely to be ahead of the curve when regulations do come around.

“Typically, regulation goes to things you can count and measure. With human factors, it’s things that are hard to quantify. Almost by default, I’d think a regulator would have to retreat to something you can count, like how many training courses or how many hours of something is required,” Noble’s Mr Newhouse said. “That’s why I think the industry needs to step into this, take the cue from the work that OGP has done, then really look at how we can apply that in the drilling sector. We need to be proactive about this.”

Conclusions

The drilling industry is not the first high-hazard industry to take on human factors. Many others have gone before us, setting models from which we can learn. Most things won’t be directly transferrable, but much of the theoretical groundwork has been done.

“We just have to be careful about transplanting what other industries have done into drilling,” Mr Pollard said. “The oil and gas industry isn’t like flying a plane, and a drill floor is not at all like the cockpit of an airplane. We have very complex interactions of individuals, teams and organizations with a lot of decision hierarchies. However, we can certainly learn from the principles behind what they’ve done – the need to challenge decision-making, biases that can be applied, etc.”

The records of other industries also have proven the value of human factors so that we’re not taking blind leaps of faith. “There is growing recognition that the non-technical skills are the game-changers,” Dr Crichton said. “Aviation was the first to recognize it and began training flight crews in the six non-technical skills. Look at them – their safety has gone through the roof. Oil and gas has been much slower to acknowledge the importance of these skills, but it’s coming now.”

As the drilling industry undertakes this journey into human factors, there are likely to be fumbles and re-starts. Good ideas from other industries may not translate well, and state-of-the-art academic research may require significant resources before they turn into practical field applications. Regardless, we’ll be making progress.

“This is going to be hard work,” Mr Newhouse said. “It’s going to require a real sustained effort, both in a training environment and out in operations, all the way to incident investigations. We’ll need to ask the hard questions so we have the full-cycle feedback loop. It’s going to take time, but that’s where we need to be.”

Click here  to view OGP Report 501, “Crew Resource Management for Well Operations Teams.”

Click here to access a human factors investigation tool from the University of Aberdeen.

Click here to visit the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society website.

Click here  for details about the SPE human factors workshop, 1-3 October  2014 in London.

7 comments

  1. Hi Linda,

    I’m an editor for Rigzone, and I found your article on the human factor in energy industry safety to be very interesting – great job! I agree that this is the next step in improving industry safety.

    Why do you think it’s taken so long for the human factor in safety to register with the industry? At a recent offshore safety event that I attended, the presenters admitted that the human factor – and yes, that was the term that some presenters used – is in its infancy. According to some of the presenters, the industry as a whole seems to have responded to safety concerns with increased regulations, often resulting in unintended consequences.

    Thanks, Linda!

    Best,

    Gene

  2. As Gene said in first comment above – Good one Linda! Yes, these are important factors we see on the rig sites during our operations, some aspects of which are also alluded to in a pending OilPro post/blog from myself. I will share this link for yours as well.

    Thanks and all the best,

    Eric R.

  3. Eric Roth, RSP

    As Gene mentioned above, great article Linda. These issues are certainly critical; as as is evident on our rig sites, the need to understand human factors is crucial when we evaluate various root causes.

    Thanks for sharing,

    Eric R.

  4. Gene, Eric, thanks for your comments. This is definitely still an “emerging” area for drilling. Gene, you ask why it’s taken so long for human factors to register — to be honest, I’m not sure it has, at least not widely. I think more and more people in key roles within drilling companies are starting to take notice, but it’s far from widely accepted. As with most things in this industry, it’s going to take some time.

    Recently Transocean’s CEO Steven Newman spoke at the IADC Drilling HSE Europe Conference. It was great to hear an influential decision maker like him talk about the importance of investigating what goes right, which is also a critical aspect to human factors. http://www.drillingcontractor.org/transoceans-newman-collaboration-will-take-industry-from-good-to-great-31067

  5. Great article Linda – I was with Steve and Dr John only last week as we sponsored the SPE event in London looking at the impact go HF on Drilling Operations. My company, Critical Team Performance, was honoured to be commissioned by OGP to chair and pull together OGP document 502 with our stakeholders from BP, Shell, BG Group to name but a few. It is great to see the document is due for release later this year.
    CTP has written a 2-day Well Operations Crew Resource Management Programme in line with 502 drawing on our extensive knowledge and expertise of delivering HF training to high performing teams in high risk industries and we have been delivering the training in the field for the past few years in the Oil and Gas Industry. We are about to start the first 6 month WOCRM programme in the World offshore in the Gulf on 4 different drilling rigs run by 3 different contractors.
    The feedback is fantastic. Real behavioural change will happen at the front line, in the field, working with the teams in real-time and coaching them after the delivery of the theory.
    Thanks again, Phil

  6. Good article.

    investigate on safer work places, where human factor does play a role in making its place a safe one, you’ll find more time and more money poured into this.

    all factors are known. we are just being unfair at choosing how much we spend on which factor

  7. When loss control programs were introduced in the 60’s in heavy industries etc, all encompassing human factor elements as the key to aligning safety and efficiency.

    Why is drilling today still lagging behind in the dark ages, with safety systems that focus on ‘lets not hurt anyone’ today vs adopting an all encompassing safety program. i.re. safety the control of loss through getting the front line workers involved to highlight and show the real and underlying human factor involved.
    This is not rocket science! Its simply understanding what makes people tick!

    So its about changing people, change their attitudes, report, investigate all accident loss and see what can be achieved.

    Not such as earth shattering as people with certain type of educational backgrounds are trying to make out. Pooobaah!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*