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Noble program details 5 pillars leaders should exhibit to impact safety culture

Posted on 13 December 2012

By Joanne Liou, editorial coordinator

Rory Gunn, HSE Manager – ME & India Division, Noble Drilling, explained the five pillars of leadership necessary to impact safety culture at the IADC Critical Issues Middle East Conference in Dubai, 4 December.

While improvements in workplace conditions and in equipment and technology can be credited for the steep decline in the number of serious accidents and fatalities from 1940 to 1990, the trend does not continue into present day as many had hoped, said Rory Gunn, HSE Manager – ME & India Division, Noble Drilling. “The reason: Whereas in the industry, getting the quick and easy oil is finished, quick safety and easy safety is also finished,” Mr Gunn stated at the 2012 IADC Critical Issues Middle East Conference in Dubai on 4 December.

Personal safety and process safety share a common variable – people, and “most of the incidents that take place are due to people, and people making mistakes,” he said. In 2008, Noble Drilling analyzed incidents that took place in the previous five years, realizing that an existing policy or procedure was already in place addressing over 80% of recordable events. “Most accidents today take place in safe conditions due to risks taken,” he noted.

In developing a worldwide HSE plan, Noble Drilling divided its safety efforts into three categories: systems (policies and procedures), visible leadership and culture. “You have to listen to the crews. You have to listen to the people while you’re developing your system, and the visible leadership has to actively support both the culture and the systems that you develop,” Mr Gunn explained. While the systems were robust, Noble realized that there was an opportunity using proven visible leadership to make a positive impact that on culture. Five pillars were devised for Noble’s leaders to exhibit:

1. Show genuine care and concern for employees.

More focus needs to be applied to people, and “obviously the only way you could get to know them is to meet with them more regularly than we were doing previously,” Mr Gunn stated. Getting to know employees as individuals leads to better understanding of their perceptions, which can help leadership give them encouragement and support for safety initiatives.

2. Measure and respond to exposure.

When an event takes place, look at not only the consequence but also the risk potential of that event. Employee engagement is vital to this pillar, since the best people to share how to drill safely are the people exposed to the risks, the people on the rig itself. “Whenever we react to an incident, the reaction is now based on the risk potential of that event as opposed to just the consequence,” Mr Gunn said.

3. Conduct safety perception surveys.

Actions are often driven by perceptions – a belief or opinion based on how things seem and not necessarily fact. “Our perceptions lead to actions, and we very rarely see a series of consequences. As a result of that, this can actually encourage risk taking,” Mr Gunn said.

Inadvertently, management may praise an individual or crew for doing a job well because a job was done without any incident; however, “sometimes we don’t delve deep enough into how they managed to do that job so quickly or how they managed to get there in such an efficient manner without thinking about what could have happened because of the shortcuts that were taken,” Mr Gunn noted. Common perceptions – “Accidents don’t happen to me. I’ve done this job a thousand times before and never been hurt.” – do exist in the industry and result in people getting hurt. “Until we can influence the perceptions of our work force, we are not going to be able to stop the unsafe acts and the unsafe conditions that have resulted in people getting hurt,” he added.

Noble Drilling began to gather information on crews’ safety perceptions during management rig visits and recorded information into a database. “These (spreadsheets) are monitored so we can discuss them as a management group on a monthly basis. It gets you to be aware of what some of the issues are, some of the softer issues very often that are affecting the morale onboard rigs.”

4. Make safety personal.

In conjunction with the first pillar, once you get to know your people, you learn what motivates them to do the job. “It’s different for everybody, but technically you can tie most things back to family, and making safety personal ties that in,” Mr Gunn said.

The safety culture includes active involvement in developing the rules that people choose to follow because they want to follow them, not because they’re being watched or monitored. “They believe in them, and they understand the consequences of not following the rules can have a huge impact on not only them but the loved ones in their family back home,” Mr Gunn noted.

5. Celebrate successes.

A common practice is to mark key milestones – days or years without a recordable or lost-time incident. Taking the practice to a day-to-day level promotes the vital behaviors that people exhibit that also will influence safety culture. “We celebrate the day-to-day successes. That could be somebody that stopped the job because it wasn’t being followed as per plan. That could be somebody that exhibits genuine care and concern to one of their fellow employees,” Mr Gunn said.

In a particular case, a division manager wrote a letter to a family about a person who stopped a job because of an unsafe condition. “The amount of feedback we saw from that one letter speaks volumes,” he stated. “That’s the type of thing we need to be looking at doing to promote the vital behaviors we want people to exhibit.”

Results have been clear since the safety initiative that included the five pillars was introduced in 2008. “The barriers that we broke down in communications between the crews and leadership – it’s rewarding to get suggestions from a roustabout that’s been onboard a rig for six months, as well as hearing about the knowledge and the experience of the people that have been there for 20 years.”

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