4-day course leverages high-fidelity simulation at Ocean Technology Center to deliver experiential learning with real-world applications
By Earl Williams, Diamond Offshore
“MUD WEIGHT GOING IN 14.3 WITH A 75 VIS!” screams the derrickhand from the intercom system. The driller and assistant driller look up from their trend screens at the pipe turning in the rotary. They have been drilling ahead for a couple of hours, and the conversation drifts from work to vacation plans for the next time they are home. They are interrupted as their floorhand – who has been difficult to deal with lately – bursts into the drill shack demanding to talk to them about why he didn’t get recommended for a promotion.
In the middle of all this commotion, at the drilling depth of 18,475 ft, things are getting interesting as the bit digs into a pressurized gas-bearing formation. As gas creeps into the hole, there is a slight uptick in return flow….but does anyone see it?
This scenario can take place on any number of drilling rigs operating around the world, but today this is taking place onshore in the Ocean Technology Center (OTECH). This training annex, owned and operated by Diamond Offshore, provides advanced training and full-scale simulation programs.
This is a simple but common example of how the human element can affect drill floor operations. This is called human factors, and it is one of the leading causes in accidents across all industries. The aviation industry was one of the first to identify this issue in the aftermath of several major incidents in the 1970s. It was also the first to start addressing it in training programs. The medical and transportation industries have also incorporated this concept into their pantheon of training.
The oil and gas industry has begun to take notice of this barrier to safe operations and is developing training programs to help address the issue. Diamond Offshore was one of the first, among offshore drilling contractors, to design training specifically to address this issue in drilling operations.
Petar Radulovic, VP of HSE at Diamond, was leading the Learning and Development team when the vision for this type of course began to take shape. When asked about the catalyst for developing this training, he pointed out, “We operate in the post-Macondo world where performance and safety expectations from all stakeholders are higher than ever before.” It was in this atmosphere of rising expectations that the need was identified to address this issue.
The first hurdle was for the development team to grasp what the issue of human factors was and how it relates to delivering safe drill floor operations. This started with research on the subject and how other industries had approached the issue. The team found that there was a wealth of information available regarding human factors in general, but they also quickly realized that it could be broken into some fairly simple principles. Another realization was that employees were already being exposed to many of the principles in other training classes offered at OTECH. For example, communication plays a major role in human factors incidents but is also explored in many of the leadership classes offered throughout the industry. Josh Loveland, Senior Training Specialist at Diamond, explains, “We began reaching out to employees and asking them about their experiences in those classroom-based courses. The feedback we received pointed us to the fact that many employees had trouble connecting the classroom training to daily rig floor operations.” Based on this feedback, the team realized the course they were developing had to be different.
After continued research, it became clear that the industries with the most success in their programs utilized high-fidelity simulation as the cornerstone of their training. Mr Radulovic pointed out, “When Captain Sullenberger faced an emergency and had to land his plane in the Hudson, he was able to make those decisions and safely handle the situation, largely because he had experienced similar situations before… in a simulator. We want to give our employees the same opportunity.”
In 2011, Diamond committed to expanding its internal training capabilities, resulting in the construction of the OTECH Center that opened its doors in 2013. The OTECH Center is a simulation and training hub that houses drilling, crane and stability simulation packages. With this framework in place, the decision was made to design a course that would leverage this technology, delivering training that focused on experiential learning and real-world application.
After putting the course together and having a human factors subject matter expert (SME) preview the material, the course was ready to be deployed. The result of this work is a four-day course where 90% of class time is spent on the simulator and performing after-action reviews. The other 10% is spent in the classroom discussing how to recognize and mitigate human factor issues that are common in all operations. It was concluded at an early stage that this course type should initially be aimed at the experienced supervisor level on the rig. The target audience for the course is experienced drillers, toolpushers and rig superintendents. The goal for these senior personnel, having experienced these issues firsthand, is to implement the learnings and pass them on to their crews once they return to the rig.
Another unique characteristic of the class is the trainee-to-instructor ratio. “We intentionally keep the class size small, with only three trainees in the class,” Mr Loveland said. “This allows us to maximize the time spent in the simulation where the learning takes place.”
Trainees are challenged with complex downhole problems and human factors issues that must be dealt with simultaneously. A simulation opens with a pre-tour meeting and handover notes from the trainee’s relief. When students enter the simulation, everything is live. From the beginning, they are measured on their performance with the technical and human factors issues. The instructor plays the roles of personnel on the rig who would normally interact with the driller, from floorhand to operator representative. Each one of these characters was developed to have their own personalities that respond differently to what is taking place. Each simulation also has key decision points where the choices made by the trainee directly influences the outcome of the simulation. This allows the human factors skills involved in decision making and leadership to be evaluated.
When asked about the success of the course, Mr Loveland said, “We gather data through exit surveys and interviews, as with most classes. The differentiator for us is the quality of the responses we are getting from those attending this course. When an employee that has been in our business for 20-plus years writes a paragraph explaining why he thinks it was the best course he has attended and wants to know when he can come back, you feel like you are doing something right.”
Responses received in follow-up surveys that are sent out to trainees at least six months post training have also been encouraging. “The majority of those who have responded have changed the way they approach operations, based on their experience in the course… Awareness of how to improve crew communication has been one of the positive changes brought up by several students,” Mr Loveland stated. This indicates that the goal of translating human factors from class to the job site is being attained in many cases. The ability to drive an actual change in behavior on the job is the highest measure of the program’s success.
Now that the concept has been proven in drilling operations, the next step is to replicate this model in other key fields, such as crane and marine operations, which have the same exposure to human factors in operations. The goal is to deliver those same lessons by marrying them into existing simulator-based courses, such as the in-house stability and damage control refresher courses and crane operator certification courses.
The drilling industry is driven by the never-ending drive for continuous improvement in all facets. The recognition of human factors as an operational issue has driven the industry to grapple with how to address it. At Diamond Offshore, part of the solution has been through expanding its internal training programs to address the issue at an operational level. The positive results and successful transfer to live operations to date are being seen as encouraging and provide the building blocks to expand this type of training beyond the drill crews to other major operational areas. Through programs like these, Diamond Offshore and other member organizations of the IADC can continue to drive improvement and innovation in the industry. DC