IMPROVING HEALTH AND SAFETY IN THE OFFSHORE OIL AND GAS SECTOR
Corporate Culture Can Be Key
The oil and gas industry ranks as one of the most hazardous industries out there when risk is not appropriately managed. The combination of powerful equipment, product under high pressure, remote, hard to get to locations and unpredictable weather significantly raises health and safety risks. But the industry in general has improved over the last few decades and some companies have increased investment to make their workplace safer for employees and contractors.
MMA Offshore focuses on health and safety as our people are our most valuable resource. We believe that everyone must return home from work in the same or better condition than when they left. Ingraining this into our corporate culture ensures that we keep health and safety at the forefront of our mission.
Of course, health and safety also has a huge impact on the bottom line. The costs of a poor health and safety record can be staggering. These costs are both internal and external. Internally, a bad health and safety record will drive up employee turnover as well as insurance premiums and decrease productivity. Externally, the reputational costs of accidents go far beyond regulatory fines and can negatively impact the company’s standing both in the industry as well as the wider public. These costs can be hard to calculate but are huge.
As accidents and health and safety problems have taken their toll not only on public oil and gas company’s bottom line but also on the morale of their employees, most major players have taken steps to address the dangers inherent in the industry. While these risks cannot be eliminated there are measures that can minimize health and safety issues. These include:
- Understanding Risks: Let’s start with the basics, companies in the oil and gas sector need to understand in detail the risks they are facing. Consider that large vessels or offshore platforms are like floating cities with all those system complexities in addition to being “open for business” 24/7. Health and safety hazards span a wide range including:
- High Pressure / High Temperature Systems
- Confined Spaces
- Rotating Machinery
- Legislative Frameworks: Due to the risks involved in the industry, most governments around the world regulate and mandate compliance to local and international standards. These regulations can be helpful but are generally not sufficient to mitigate health and safety risks. Regulatory pressures can give rise to “tick-box cultures” that put in procedures to be compliant but not safe. Companies increasingly need to guard against this type of thinking. Transitioning to a goal based approach will yield much better results.
- Management Systems: While not visible as an asset system, management systems play a key role in health and safety by introducing risk assessment standards and tools. Studies have found that organizations that have high accident rates in most cases have not effectively implemented or improved systems that were in place on paper. We are not seeing new types accidents but just old causes repeating themselves. Corporate leadership is critical in effective management systems as the organization will only perform to the level “lived” by senior leaders.
- Structural and Asset Integrity: The structural integrity of offshore support vessels underpins the health and safety of the workers and the surrounding environment. Better designed and manufactured equipment has positively impacted the health and safety offshore but strong operational and maintenance processes are critical to preserving a safer environment.
- Human Factors: Finally, as the quality of the assets and management systems has improved we focus on PEOPLE. According to a study commissioned by Total E&P Research and Development, around 80% of the accidents in the offshore oil and gas industry are due to human error. Understanding worker’s impact on the work environment will be very important in advancing health and safety. A positive health and safety culture is essential where workers have been given proper training and incentives to work “safe” with a zero tolerance for non-compliance.
But even with focus and attention on the above issues, health and safety risk cannot be totally eliminated from oil and gas environments. Extreme natural pressures are at work and while good planning and processes can minimize health and safety risks there will always remain the possibility of problems that could lead to accidents. Over the last few decades we have seen major offshore accidents like:
- OCEAN RANGER OIL RIG IN 1982 – THE LARGEST RIG TO CAPSIZE
- PIPER ALPHA PLATFORM IN 1988 – DEADLIEST
- DEEPWATER HORIZON IN 2010 – THE COSTLIEST
MMA Offshore has invested in increasing health and safety with the “Target 365 Initiative” that was launched in 2012. The focus on having “A perfect day – every day” has paid dividends for the company’s health and safety record.
Fundamental to the Target 365 success since inception is:
- Developed in-house with demonstrable management commitment
- Transparency – information on incidents and performance available to ALL on intranet
- Business planning always includes Target 365 goal consideration
- Rewards and Recognition
- In-house training, coaching and leadership program
Management focus on health and safety can pay dividend but only if companies are truly committed. MMA Offshores focus on this critical issue demonstrates how oil and gas players can get it right. Attention and the implementation of strong processes will one day allow MMA Offshore to drive our health and safety statistics to ZERO, but keep in mind that health and safety stats are a lagging indicator.
You are only as good as your last day – work on health and safety is never done.
The proper corporate culture will make work on health and safety continuous and will ensure safer workplaces for our workers no matter the economic environment that the industry faces. Will the recent industry downturn impact health and safety in the years to come? Have health and safety investments avoided “cost cutting” in the downturn? Time will tell…