If you could picture safety’s role in the industry, chances are you’d picture something like this.
Safety is typically viewed as something “separate” from operations. We have safety people, manuals, training, products, and guidelines. Often, safety even has its own separate department. It is a “check” within companies to make sure that rules and regulations are followed, while operations goes about their day to day activities.
In my last article I mentioned that we have a long way to go if our goal is to develop a seamless, productive relationship between safety and operations. The divide I mention above is part of the friction that exists between these two teams, that ultimately work side-by-side in achieving the same goals.
Gone are the good ol’ days, as some would say, when the field was left to fend for itself. Gone are the days of duct taping and bale wiring anything that wasn’t screwed down. We like to believe that people thought, “this is the best possible way to do this job”, and at the time it likely was. Experience and data have taught us, however, that there are better ways. We’ve developed better training, equipment, planning and procedures that have reduced the rate and severity of incidents to unknown degrees. Simply put, we’ve come a long way.
The Job Safety Analysis or JSA is the primary risk assessment tool used in the industry and the backbone of our “new” safety world. It has three main elements: 1. The Job’s Steps | 2. The Job’s Hazards and | 3. The Job’s Hazard Solutions/Mitigations. Workers gather together prior to the job to discuss these items, hoping that with their signature it resonates appropriately.
Workers then take to the field to drill, frac, service, dig, service, and check wellsites. The names of these tasks sound like a UFC match: snubbing, swabbing, pumping, tripping, stabbing, and In some ways we treat it that way. The coaches sit behind desks dispatching and making calls for the field, and the safety people referee the process, blowing their invisible whistle when the rules aren’t followed. In case you’re wondering, no, the safety guys and referees aren’t typically invited to the victory after parties.
Imagine having a stranger in your home observing your behavior with your family, shaking their head and documenting when you work later than expected or lose your temper - you would feel violated. The role of the safety person is similar, and thus problematic. We are often the least experienced or most out of practice person on the site, having just enough authority to challenge someone’s capability, but not enough knowledge to help improve the process. We arrive on site during the project judging the quality of the job plan and observe the work for failures and weaknesses. Sometimes we ask individuals to observe each other and document poor behaviors and seek out ‘positive’ ones - and then report their findings back to us. It’s a bit like having Dr. Phil in your living room. Safety people are responsible to collect the data, create spreadsheets and graphs, and provide it to management in hopes for an accurate picture of risk and mitigations in the field.
The “wall” that goes up when the safety person is around makes perfect sense, but it’s not because workers are against the concept of a safer workplace. They are resistant to the way we’re going about it. The data we collect is skewed by how we collect it, the workers are uncomfortable being analyzed like a great white shark on shark week, and the safety people are trying to help, but are put in an odd position - trying to be a part of the team while literally driving around a truck with a special sticker or lightbar on it.
We must change how safety people are integrated into operations; how they collect data, and how they add value. My hope is that they can become a crucial, helpful part of the team - that is integral to effectiveness and profitability. This will only happen when we change their dynamic, and how they’re expected to achieve their goals. My next editorial will deal with how to change their scope to better fit with their company’s ultimate mission, excellence. Hopefully, we’ll come to see safety’s role more like this:
Oil & Gas Terms & Definitions
Snubbing- Pushing drill pipe downhole when the well is overpressured or experiencing a kick (typically with the Blowout Preventer (BOP) closed).
Swabbing- The process of relieving pressure on a well by moving pipe or other tools up the well to produce desired flow.
Pumping- Maintaining wellsite facilities and verifying production volumes and pressures.
Tripping- Lifting pipe/rods out or into the wellbore.
Stabbing- Guiding and engaging components that are designed to connect and work together downhole.