Welcome to this month’s safety edition! I hope this finds you enthusiastic, happy, and injury free at your organization!
For the last three years of writing for this publication, I’ve yet to run out of things to say! Isn’t that a typical safety person? That was a rhetorical question—you don’t have to answer that.
As I’ve stated throughout the years, safety has become litigation driven. If it is not documented, it didn’t happen. At least that is the opinion of courts, lawyers, and governing entities. The cost and time dedicated to ensuring that the ducks are all in a row regarding documentation is nothing but costly, time consuming, and laborious. Any shortfall in documentation is likely to be chalked up to lack of time and money, of which time is money. Conversely, however, the costs for not documenting, due to fines, litigation, and labor costs, etc. are costly as well.
We in the oilfield call that a veritable conundrum.
Proper documentation can be your friend or your enemy. What do I mean by that? If your documents look perfect and are perfect, the evidence you have to support that fact has to be accurate. How can you guarantee comprehension in training? A 50-question test, even if the wrong answers are remediated, does not guarantee comprehension, nor does it verify retention by the employment. It’s possible to verify enforcement but unless it’s 100 percent followed all the time, it does not always stand up in court.
Some safety training is a dog and pony production, regardless of the purest of intentions. I often refer to it as a hood ornament. A fairly expensive hood ornament. So if you are audited or investigated post accident, any flaw in documentation has the potential to have catastrophic results. You can plea good faith effort training, and/or willful negligence of safety rules by the employee (also known as individual exception), and you can even have witnesses. The bottom line is that it will still cost.
The only thing that ensures a modicum of relief in litigation is documentation and its legitimacy. The cost of ensuring 100 percent compliance is someone monitoring compliance 100 percent of the time. That is not feasible in the oil and gas industry.
There are 3 main reasons for failures.
Training is where the emphasis is, for most companies. It comes closest to achieving compliance.
As for “unable”: Here we find a a myriad of opportunities for failure. Say an individual needs a tool to do a particular job safely and effectively. He may tell a supervisor, and the supervisor may attempt to get the appropriate tool. However, it may not be available, it may cost too much, or higher ups may say “Find an alternative way.”
But as for the last reason for failure—an employee’s unwillingness—here we see the most opportunities for failure of all three reasons. Why be unwilling? The impetus can even come from above. Maybe the boss says “improvise,” or “by-pass the procedure.” In realistic terms, he’s saying get it done or they’ll find someone that can.
That’s the stark reality.
Regardless how puritanical and well intentioned upper management is, they seldom are confronted with the real world battles of the operations side. Why? Most subordinates do not speak up with their individual battles. The know the drill. The message, they expect, will be the same. Find a way to make it work. Improvise. Overcome.
One of the methods I utilize often is to take the issue/concern off my desk and give the issue to my boss. I keep running it up the ladder until there is a resolution. Is it foolproof? No. Have I lost a job because I was unable or unwilling to do it unsafely? Absolutely. Even before I got into safety from operations, I’ve been stubborn about safety.
It is not fair to ask the common worker to put his job or life on the line and bypass safety. I’ve seen too many good people buried in an honest attempt to blindly follow orders when they knew the risks beforehand. People want their jobs. They want to feed their families. And they want to go home safely.
I fortunately was able to find jobs because of my work ethic. I was able to walk away from bad situations. I realized that not everyone shared my enthusiasm on risk factors. If it looks dangerous or feels dangerous, it’s probably wise to go with your instincts.
It does not take a degree, title, or position to recognize a potential of loss of life or limb. However, it is the uneducated or improperly trained individual that assumes the most risk.
It’s time to land this plane. It’s easy to pontificate on the numerous ways to be safe. We can have numerous catchy sayings to make it relevant. For instance, “inspect what you expect.”
With OSHA in business since 1970, the incidents, accidents, and fatalities have diminished somewhat. For that I am truly thankful. But the “curve” or graph of progress for fewer fatal accidents looks more like a line as opposed to a downward slope. Yes, there are factors involved, depending on what you are looking for. We can make charts of what we are trying to reflect as progress. I don’t see many charts or figures reflecting zero accidents.
In summation, I predict as long as there is work, statistics, and injuries, safety is a secure profession. Hopefully automation and robotics will eliminate the human factor. Until then, I am committed to helping achieve an accident free environment in the oil and gas industry.
As usual, it is not how many hits we have in baseball that counts! It’s how many times we reach home safely!
Dusty Roach is a safety professional based in Midland. He is also a public speaker on subjects of leadership and safety, and he maintains a personal website at dustyroach.com.