The oil and gas industry has one of the highest rates of severe injury statistics in the United States. The industry recorded a total of 1,333 fatalities from 2003-2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Severe injuries — defined as incidents that lead to hospitalization or loss of a body part — ranged from falls to major burns due to explosions. In 2016, workers in the oil and gas industry reported 602 severe incidents, which resulted in 166 amputations and 481 hospitalizations.
Due to the hazards inherent to industrial industries, like oil and gas, there is a need for not only strong safety policies an procedures but buy-in from the employees engaged in that work. Because these types of industries. Safe operations rely of safety officers and operations managers to communicate hazards and control measures to personnel in a simple and effective manner.
Safety standard operating procedures (SOPs) are one of the most effective ways to raise awareness among the workers.
What Safety Procedures Involve
Safe work procedures document risks associated with jobs and tasks, as well as list appropriate risk control measures into a sequence of steps. Most safety procedures include the following information as a minimum:
- Industry procedures agreed to by all stakeholders, which include bridging documents between operators, contractors, and service providers that address workplace control procedures
- Worksite availability and information about SIMOPS (simultaneous operations)
- Updates or improvements to current safety metrics
- Regular safety training for personnel
- Corrective action processes in the event employees deviate or otherwise violate safety protocols
- Change orders and update of printed or electronic procedures
Organizations implement these safety steps to educate the workforce and prevent incidents. Unfortunately, workplace accidents and incidents can still occur when workers ignoring or neglecting safety procedures.
Why Workers Don’t Follow Procedures
Worker noncompliance manifests in different ways:
- Skipping steps
- Performing activities without authorization
- “Accidental” omissions
- Doing additional activities
For employers and safety managers who documented the procedures, these actions can be frustrating. Documentation takes time and consideration; employees who disregard safety procedures and cause or figure into incidents can consume the company’s time and resources.
Blaming either the worker or the employer, however, shouldn’t be the next step. It’s easy enough to run someone off, but the organization as a whole gains little when this is none for reasons other than willful misconduct. Instead, it’s better to understand why employees neglect or ignore safety procedures so the organization can address the root cause of an incident.
Due to the fast-paced nature of today’s business environment, information gets stale quickly. Safety and operations managers deal with the challenge of keeping procedures relevant in a never ending cycle of continuous improvement. Failure to update current procedures will affect the organization’s credibility in terms of workplace safety.
Workers will use out-of-date procedures as an opportunity to disregard all safety processes, citing inaccurate documentation as an excuse not to follow.
Regular revisions ensure safety procedures are always up-to-date. Safety managers should also communicate changes to the documenting team promptly.
Overly wordy or poorly written procedures are easy to ignore. Workers will also disregard safety procedures that are impractical or missing critical elements. While they are responsible for thoroughly reading all of the procedures, employers can help them appreciate the written documentation better by making it succinct and grammatically correct.
The use of graphics and pictures also illuminate what the upper management expects of the workers. For example, BP, one of the world’s leading integrated oil and gas companies, used multimedia instead of “long text or drawings that the operators didn’t understand.” According to the organization, the procedures became more accurate, and workers used them more often.
Non-Relatable Safety Approaches
Some safety procedures are unrealistic, not relevant to their work or appear to be copied from other facilities but don’t apply to their operations. When field workers encounter steps in a procedure that don’t make sense they tend to ignore the entire procedure.
The safety procedure documentation team must design the process with the end user in mind and when appropriate, get their input. The team must observe the workplace and see how the work is done to create an effective process. User-friendly procedures encourage regular use of procedures and accurate implementation of safety processes.
Lack of Access
Workers neglect procedures that are hard to find. Whether the organization uses electronic or paper-based systems, all workers should have access to procedures within seconds. If it’s unavailable, some workers may decide to do things on their own, which leaves the door open for costly health and safety risks.
HSE managers should develop a system with easy access. The latest version of all safety procedures must be searchable at or near the job site. They must also ensure that all employees have copies of the procedures in printed and electronic form.
Procedural Discipline: Building a Culture of Commitment
Getting workers to follow safety procedures goes beyond just providing them with the tools and resources they need. Leadership and culture make up a complex system that guides and influences workplace behavior. It is important to establish an adaptable workforce that recognizes the risks and appropriately responds to them.
To achieve this level of performance, safety managers and employers should build a culture of commitment — a workplace that supports engagement with the company’s view and values on safety. Establishing this culture requires answering the following questions:
- What is the organization’s safety goal? Should a reduction in annual injuries be the only goal? Employers and HSE managers should identify the organization’s primary goals first before cascading them to the members. Common safety goals in the oil and gas industry include the following:
- Achieve zero injuries, work-related illnesses or Lost Time Incidents (LTI)
- Fully respect safety and health in all management plans and operations
- Comply with all applicable standards and regulatory requirements, often measured in number of INCs or Incidents of Non-Compliance issued to the company or specific asset
- What is the organization’s current state of safety culture? Companies with strong, adaptive cultures tend to benefit from lower incident rates. To gain an idea of the organization’s current safety culture, it pays to research and trend safety metrics (e.g., injury rates, level of safety behavior, and event reporting). This helps predict variables indirectly related to safety (e.g., turnover, workers’ trust in the organization, and innovation).
- Is the leadership effective? Workers can’t change an organization’s safety culture; the leaders can. The best safety practices and a transformational leadership style strengthen the organization’s culture, as well as the safety results. Once management understands the strengths and gaps in their safety leadership, they can effectively reinforce safety behavior and address other areas for improvement.
Procedural discipline stems from a strong culture of commitment. Safety managers and employers must lead by example, as well as encourage workers to follow suit by showing them the value of following procedures.
Establishing a robust safety culture is the first step toward lowering the number of workplace injuries. Ultimately, the goal should be to build an environment where workers don’t just follow the rules — they also live by them.