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Noble addresses recordable incidents rate through focus on human behaviours

Posted on 01 October 2010

Don Jacobsen, Senior VP Operations, Noble Corp

Don Jacobsen, Senior VP Operations, Noble Corp

The drilling sector is doing a lot better today than 40 or so years ago, but how does it build on that into the future; and why is it that people do things the way they do, was the essence of the second-day keynote address delivered by Don Jacobsen, senior VP operations, Noble Corp, at the 2010 IADC Drilling HSE Europe Conference, 29-30 September in Amsterdam.

“If we think about the present, we’re doing pretty well with this industry. We’ve got few fatalities, compared to the near past of, say, 40 years ago,” he said.

“But the important thing to think about is the future … what’s going to happen 30 years from now? Let’s think about how today impacts the future. Piper Alpha … that was 22 years ago. It was something that changed the industry forever. It made a huge impact.

“Think about the present and our performance relative to 1985. We have about the same number of fatalities in our business as we did back in 1985, with the exception of big catastrophic events like this.”

Mr Jacobsen said that, despite good HSE performance, low incident rates and good people managing good operations, personal behaviours … human interactions … resulted in a very tragic incident.

He was referring to Macondo.

“That puts it in perspective as to where we need to go … need to focus on.”

He said Noble, now in its 90th year and with 69 units around the world, has a diverse workforce and has been noted as a safety leader with many award recognitions.

“But this is something we work on in this company.”

By way of explanation, Mr Jacobsen turned the spotlight on total recordable incident rates per 200,000 manhours at Noble.

He said that, over the five-year period from 2003 to 2008, the company was “bumping around” the 0.8 to 1.0 mark … making progress some years but then slipping a little.

He said it begged the question as to what was happening on the human behaviour front and formed the basis of a plan to take a detailed look using root cause analysis.

The findings were graphic.

“Over three quarters of our incidents were directly related to human behaviour … things like management change, supervision, work correction not being adequate, standards and procedures that were not workable … we had things in place that weren’t followed even though there were good standards and procedures.”

Mr Jacobsen talked of conscious risk-taking where people were doing risky things in spite of their experience and procedures with regard to what they should have been doing.

“Our corrective actions were focused more on knowledge skills and experience. So we have a mismatch … we’re focused more on training but not really addressing the risk-taking … why it is that people do things that are wrong.

“We’re not working on safety culture; we’re working on competency and experience and skills. So there’s a mismatch.

“So what is in the guys’ minds on the rigs that are causing the actions that have been taken that result in the consequences that you get?”

Teams were sent out to talk to the hands on the rigs. The findings were interesting.

Offshore personnel feedback included that, while the watchword was supposed to be safety, it was really about cost.

One said: “I still take shortcuts because I want to do a good job. My supervisor says ‘good job’ when I do that. And if I’m not doing that (taking shortcuts), he wants to know why I took so long to get the job done.”

Mr Jacobsen said: “So we have supervisors out there who are consciously or unconsciously supporting risk-taking because we’re rewarding the workers on doing a fast job. Unfortunately, they get away with that often.”

However, he said, Noble has been working on the problem with three main elements … systems, leadership and rig culture.

And he warned: “Having good systems isn’t going to address the individual taking safety shortcuts or not following procedures.”

Then, likening the reaction of offshore hands to a visit by management to motorists slowing down because they spot a police car, Mr Jacobsen said: “How do you sustain visible leadership by management offshore? It’s a bit like driving down the road, spotting a police car, slowing down and then speeding up again once out of sight.

“It’s really about visible leadership influencing the culture of the operations out there.”

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