The petroleum industry is a global powerhouse that generates trillions of dollars and employs thousands of workers every year. In fact, the oil and gas drilling sector earned a total revenue of $5 trillion (USD) in 2014 alone. Companies that explore, develop and operate oilfields make up 4.5 to 6.5 percent of the global economy. This number will only continue to increase with time.
The industry is also a major contributor to the national GDP of regions that house oil companies. For example, in 2016, oil revenue made up 44.03 percent of Kuwait’s GDP, 42.41 percent of Iraq’s GDP and 26.44 percent of Saudi Arabia’s GDP.
All of this suggests that the petroleum sector is here to stay. Oil and gas companies may not reach their full potential, however, without observing proper safety metrics. These already thriving companies can go beyond business expectations if they look into oilfield safety metrics and find ways to improve them. It all starts with solidifying control of work process for safe operations.
Control of Work: Using Effective Permit Management Systems
The control of work process is the integrated management of business-critical maintenance processes. It includes:
- Permit to work: Management systems that ensure safe and efficient workplace operations
- Hazard identification and risk assessment: Identification of quantitative and qualitative risks related to a well-defined situation and established hazards
- Isolation management: Systems that protect people who work in the oilfield and operate oil and gas-related equipment (lock-out/tag-out)
The first step to improving safety metrics for a petroleum company is securing and updating the permit to work. This refers to a management system that states what, where and when work needs to be accomplished. A responsible individual will assess the work process and requirements as well as check the safety of overall operations. When he or she finds the terms agreeable and ready for the job, he or she signs a permit that confirms understanding of the risks involved in the work.
Securing a Permit to Work
A permit to work is also an effective means of communication between site managers, supervisors and operators and the people who actually carry out the work. It coordinates different tasks and site activities, effectively avoiding conflicts of schedule and delays in delivery.
Generally speaking, an effective permit to work form includes:
- Definition of the required work, the equipment for it and the personnel involved
- Precautions for the task and the environment in which personnel will carry it out
- Other work groups or a point person who needs to be informed before carrying out a task
- Formal authorization to get started with the task at hand
- Specific duration for which the work permit is valid
- A feasible way to extend the work permit when necessary
- Witness mechanism for efficient work completion and worksite maintenance
- Actions to take in case of an emergency
Keep in mind, however, that a permit to work does not replace a risk assessment. It provides the context for pointing out certain risks, but you still have to make a thorough assessment to determine the exact points of improvement for safe operations.
Conducting Risk Assessment
When conducting a risk assessment, you move one step closer to safe operations in the oilfield or petroleum facilities. The assessment determines the risks and factors that influence your project’s level of safety. It does this by looking into the hazardous events or environments that may cause workplace accidents.
An assessment of the technical risks that may threaten the safety of a working environment may include:
- A simple yet high-level review of the equipment used in your operations
- A meticulous analysis that identifies which equipment is most suitable for production, safety and the environment
- An evaluation of working processes to identify potential failure modes or possible causes of operational failure
- A technical risk review to determine whether current equipment is suitable for the task at hand
There are different ways of assessing risk that depend on specific areas of concern. You may conduct a quantitative or a qualitative oil and gas assessment to describe probability distributions and identify underlying factors that increase risks.
On top of that, you may use various tools and techniques – such as the hazard identification (HAZID) technique, design review or a failure mode, effects and criticality analysis (FMECA) – to accurately identify risks.
Once you’ve properly identified the risks, you may categorize them into different risk levels – low, medium and high. This gives you an awareness of which risks are tolerable and which ones you have to act on immediately. You may categorize them based on their impact on personal safety, the environment, assets and company reputation.
Afterward, create a risk management plan that encompasses all your resources, company roles and responsibilities, work schedules and milestones and other factors that affect daily operations. These factors must be in line with your schedule and budget constraints, though. When you apply a suitable plan, it gives you a better understanding of the total risks involved and reduces them in the long run.
Practicing Isolation Methods for Maintenance
Oil and gas companies use equipment such as boilers, storage tanks and piping systems. These types of equipment need regular maintenance, especially when they contain or regularly come in contact with hazardous materials.
Before the maintenance process actually begins, you have to practice proper isolation methods to keep equipment mechanically isolated or disconnected from the main plant. This lets oil production facilities continue with operations while preventing damage to other equipment. In addition, isolation avoids injuries and other health hazards to your maintenance crew.
Improved safety procedures go beyond using effective permit management systems, conducting regular risk assessment and practicing proper isolation methods, though. The safety of an oil and gas facility does not rely only on your control of work process. You also have to observe safe operational procedures and influence your employees to do the same.
Safe Operational Procedures: Predicting Incidents and Implementing Procedural Discipline
The oil and gas industry is no stranger to workplace-related injuries. Injured hips and fractured limbs are common effects of tripping or falling in oil facilities, while major burns may occur because of explosions or accidental exposure to hazardous chemicals. And unfortunately, amputation or the loss of a body part is also relatively common in facilities that overlook safe operational procedures.
Occupational injuries and illnesses may occur at oil and gas facilities for some of these reasons.
- Flawed safety culture: Risk assessments are unrealistic and credible warnings are disregarded.
- Lack of commitment to safety: The management has a lack of commitment to safe procedures.
- Inadequate hazard analysis: The organization puts more emphasis on recovery or investigation when, before anything else, they should prioritize the design of a safe system.
- Inefficient communication systems: Inadequate reports and investigation lead to undetected unsafe work conditions and result in different injuries in the oil facility.
- Disorganized management of change procedures: Faulty management of change procedures prevents workers from fully comprehending the effects of the change in the system.
- Inadequate learning from previous incidents: Prior workplace-related accidents do not undergo thorough investigation, burying the underlying systematic causes of what happened.
These reasons suggest that oilfield companies may overlook incidents and fail to implement procedural discipline in the facility, resulting in preventable injuries.
Using Data to Predict Incidents
It’s easier to make business decisions when you have all the relevant and related information laid out in front of you. You will have an easier time deciding on something when you know exactly why you need it, how to implement it and what its possible outcomes are. Similarly, in the oil and gas industry, you need data to predict incidents and bring down the total recordable incident rate (TRIR) in your operations.
When you want to improve the safety metrics in your oil and gas operations, pay attention to existing data and incident reports about work-related injuries and accidents. Make sure you pass all regulatory requirements to avoid preventable incidents. On top of that, track the trends in post-event accident reports. This gives you an idea of the specific factors that may threaten safety in your facility.
Predictive data analysis requires that you gather information from multiple reliable sources. These sources include health and safety data as well as machine learning and operational analytics. The information lets you comprehend realistic risks that your workers encounter because of the equipment they use, they environment they are in and even the way they operate. As a result, you generate insights to increase safety efforts and business efficiency.
Be proactive about data analytics so that you have a thorough understanding of what causes such incidents. From there, you can start researching ways to improve workplace safety and protect the health and wellbeing of your personnel. Here are some ways you can do this:
- Survey your data sources and check for any gaps or challenges in data collection.
- Look for a way to demonstrate the value of existing data.
- Establish awareness about data and how they affect your business as a whole.
- Work with a team that has sophisticated data skills to accurately point out safety issues.
You can’t eliminate every hazard that exists at your facilities or in your operations. But, you can reduce the risk of those hazards causing incidents that result in damaged equipment or injured personnel. Develop a predictive model that uses credible data to predict workplace injuries before they occur. Then, find a way to implement procedural discipline focused on the safety of your team.
Implementing Procedural Discipline at the Facility Level
Safety has always been a major concern in the oil and gas industry. So companies implement strict rules and procedures to keep workers safe in their facilities. Unfortunately, not all employees strictly follow those rules and procedures.
Don’t just assume that your personnel will abide by the established safety procedures in the workplace as described in your total management system (TMS). You have to be certain that they actually follow those procedures. The simplest way to find out if your team diligently abides by the safety rules you have set into place is to closely observe operations. Study the way people approach their tasks and if they adhere to operating procedures.
Your personnel are more likely to comply with well-defined procedures that are accurate and easily understandable. For this reason, implement a measurable procedural discipline practice that you can use as a basis for records and reports. Include the following details in your company's TMS:
- Clearly defined set of procedures that are agreeable to the management and stakeholders.
- Establish bridging documents between contractors, operators and service providers that define the factors involved when co-operating on a budget
- Familiarize and train all personnel on the importance of operational procedures.
- Constantly reinforce the importance of operational procedures and retrain personnel on a regular basis.
- Make operational procedures available (and mandatory) at every worksite, as printed or electronic copies.
- Management must ensure procedural discipline in the facility.
- Administer fair and objective correction of personnel who deviate from procedures.
- Perform proper investigation and corrective actions of the root cause of deviations.
- Have a process of continuous improvement and change management for your TMS.
You have to be sure that the personnel working in your facilities understand the safety and operational procedures and why these procedures are necessary. Make these concise, highlighting the most important details instead of making people skim through them; this will make it easier to implement procedural discipline.
In line with this, when your team understands how and why the procedures are designed, there is a higher chance of strict adherence to them.
Personal Safety: Empowering Your Employees to Make the Right Decisions
Workplace safety can be tricky. No matter how stringent your procedures, they may not generate the results you expect unless your team is fully on board and has bought into your company's safety culture. Encourage your employees to look after themselves and make the right decisions regarding personal safety at work.
When it comes to workplace safety programs, you have two options. You can base your program on the behavior of your personnel or on the workflow they follow. Either way, empower your employees to stick to the program and protect themselves on and off the job.
Behavior-Based Safety Programs
Make sure that you have a clear implementation process and that your team promotes positive behavior toward workplace safety. This plays a major role in the success of your oil and gas company’s overall health and safety goals.
Promote and practice workplace safety through a behavior-based safety program. This kind of program uses behavioral science, organizational behavior and behavioral psychology to identify workplace conduct, point out hazards and improve overall safety in the facility. It focuses on people’s daily behavior to promote safety for both management and employees.
This program does not rely on assumptions and common knowledge. Rather, it uses scientific knowledge to improve safety policy, procedures, and systems.
Establish a solid behavior-based safety program by keeping these factors in mind.
- Target behaviors: Review past incident reports and other types of safety data to pinpoint the most critical safety issues that your facility faces. Then, you can start working on ways to prevent similar incidents or accidents from happening in the future.
- Evaluation checklist: Create a checklist that contains all proper procedures and safety protocols that your personnel should be observing. This lets you measure and evaluate your employees’ workplace behavior in a controlled manner.
- Measurement system: Develop a detailed measurement system that looks into the frequency of safe behavior and that counts the instances of risky or unsafe behaviors. This way, management will have an easier time administering corrective actions and rewarding positive behaviors.
- Constant observation culture: Workplace safety observance is not a one-time thing. Assemble a team that does regular observation, evaluation, and measurement of your personnel’s behavior to make them more aware of what is safe and unsafe.
- Constructive feedback: It is important to give immediate feedback about unsafe behavior after an observation or an evaluation. This helps prevent accidents or other safety-related incidents in the workplace. In addition, feedback may encourage the constant practice of safety procedures.
- Improvement goals: It isn’t enough that you have identified the points of improvement in terms of workplace safety. On top of that, you should set goals for improvement for your personnel to strive towards. For example, if only 50 to 75 percent of your team wears protective gloves during operations, the goal may be to raise that to 100 percent.
Despite these factors, a behavior based safety program will only be successful if your entire team supports it. Everyone from the CEO to the front line workers – including salaried workers, union employees, contractors and sub-contractors – must be aware of your facility’s safety level and of what behavioral changes are necessary to avoid workplace-related accidents and health concerns.
Process-Based Safety Programs
You have two options for the proactive prevention of workplace accidents, one being the behavior-based safety program. The other option is a process-based safety method, which examines the workflow to anticipate, identify and eliminate safety hazards.
Process-based safety bears several distinctions from behavior based safety programs. Where behavior-based safety looks into behavioral patterns, the former stands by the statement that workplace injuries are indicative of a larger-scale flaw. It operates under the belief that flaws in the system are the root cause of personal injuries in. So it focuses on engineering and process improvement.
A solid process-based safety program includes these methods of keeping personnel safe.
- Elimination: Total removal of the hazard through re-engineering when possible.
- Substitution: Replacement of the hazard with a lower risk alternative.
- Engineering controls: Physical devices that prevent personnel from coming in contact with hazards and that restrict the movement of equipment and components that pose a safety risk.
- Administrative controls: Safety training and policies that are designed to protect workers.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): Gloves, safety glasses and shoes, earplugs, hard hats, respirators, fall arresters and other types of equipment that protect each worker from hazards.
- Data trending and analysis: Indicators that gage the effectiveness of safety initiatives.
Perhaps the most notable difference between process-based safety programs and behavior-based safety programs is perspective each one maintains on injuries. Unlike behavior-based safety that observes incident patterns before drawing up a plan, process-based safety anticipates and eliminates hazards before they even cause injuries. It adopts root cause analysis of potential workplace injuries, which points out system flaws as being the cause of possible injuries and accidents.
The program emphasizes the statement that the greatest opportunity to ensure a safe process is at the beginning stage. You have better control over what occurs in the entire process when you remain vigilant about safety while it is still at an early stage.
On a related note, it costs less to make changes early on, before you set the process into motion.
A process-based safety program may be suitable for your oilfield business. Alternatively, you may prefer to implement a behavior-based safety program depending on your unique requirements and setup. Either way, you should enforce a program that accurately identifies workplace hazards, improves your risk management plan and trains your personnel in all aspects of workplace safety.
Handle with Care: Improving Safety Metrics in the Facility
Thousands of people work in this industry and, without adequate safe work practices, they could be putting their lives at risk every day. So it is important to be careful with day-to-day operations and be meticulous with safety procedures.
Make sure that your employees practice personal safety in your facility. Using safety equipment, gloves and shoes may not be enough. Dig deeper into the safety risks that your team may encounter and find a way to effectively address those risks.
Consider the following factors for the improvement of workplace safety metrics:
- Control of work process – Secure a permit to work, conduct risk assessment and utilize an isolation management system to ensure safety in the facility.
- Safe operational procedures – Implement clearly defined procedural discipline so that your workers know how to avoid workplace accidents and injuries.
- Workplace safety programs – Encourage your personnel to observe a safety program based on their workplace behavior or the operational process.
Reduce accidents and incidents on the job by practicing and improving safety metrics in your oil and gas facility. And for more information on safe work practices, sign up for our monthly Newsletter by filling out the form to the to the right of this post.
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