In the real world, safety isn’t our number one priority, said James Thatcher, EnCana Oil & Gas team lead, EH&S. The first priority is and always will be getting the work done – getting to TD, finishing the well.
So what about safety? Where does it fall in the scheme of our operations? “Safety has to be a value, a core value,” he said. “If safety is a value, then no matter what priorities get in the way, it doesn’t slide.”
Speaking at the 2010 IADC Health, Safety, Environment & Training Conference on 26 January in Houston, Dr Thatcher remarked that when safety is based on being a priority, employees take risks, even unacceptable levels of risk, in order to get the job done. “And we get away with it most of the time,” he said.
That’s why safety has to be a value. Values are what drive people’s behavior, and everyone has a value system they take to work. “We depend on it to keep us sane … our values are what make up our core, our center,” he said.
He suggested that the industry should make a shift in paradigm so that it’s not training employees simply around government regulations, company rules or industry best practices. Training employees on how to avoid violations of these standards implies that “There is no risk if I’m in compliance – therefore I must be safe.”
Instead, employees should be taught to recognize, evaluate and mitigate risks – a strategy built around the core value of safety. They need to understand what are at-risk behaviors, unsafe behaviors, at-risk conditions and unsafe conditions.
Industry must also teach employees to have situational awareness. “In life, we know what we know, and most of us know what we don’t know. What scares me and keeps me up at night is what I don’t know I don’t know,” Dr Thatcher said.
“You have to know what you can do and what you can’t do, and understand how judgement can be affected by circumstances,” he continued.
At-risk training would educate employees on how to recognize behavior-based and condition-based risk – how to avoid risks and how to mitigate risks to an acceptable level.
One tool used at EnCana is the SEE tool. This involves searching for factors that might lead to risky situations, evaluating how the factors might interact to create more risk, and executing an action to establish an acceptable level of risk that maintains an acceptable margin of safety.
Dr Thatcher also suggested that industry turn the familiar safety pyramid upside down because its current structure is misleading. Its hierarchy of events shows near-misses at the bottom, then first-aid cases, then medical-treatment cases, then restricted-duty cases, then lost-time cases and finally fatalities at the top. This suggests a correlation between the number of events when there is seldom a direct correlation between how many near-misses it takes before there will be a fatality, he said.
By turning the pyramid upside down, we can put the things that happen the most up top – the at-risk behaviors and conditions. And that structure, he said, clearly shows where our resources need to be concentrated.
Additional details about Dr Thatcher’s call for “value-driven safety” in the oil and gas industry will be available in the Jan/Feb 2010 issue of Drilling Contractor.