Welcome back to this month’s installment about everyone’s favorite topic of safety! I recently was reading a post that intrigued me on a social media. A person who was new to safety wanted to know what was the most prevalent cause of accidents in the oilfield and why. The question was broad and yet evoked numerous and varied responses. There were more than 80-plus responses and only a few were duplicates.
The most frequent response cited on “the cause of accidents” was the lack of proper training. Whether the response suggested lack of training or whether the response suggested lack of quality training, either way, training was the issue. The same was true when someone suggested that the issue was the relevance of the training program to the job in question. Still, training was the number one response.
A few years back, I was watching my son’s baseball team practice. I noticed an exuberant dad trying to coach his son, before practice started, on how to bat. He told his son: 1. how to grip the bat, 2. how to stand, 3. how to swing and, 4. how to keep his eye on the ball and watch the bat make contact. After the son made 5 or 6 whiffs at the ball, the father seemed perturbed that his son wasn’t immediately catching on. The son indicated he wasn’t thrilled about a high speed 3-inch projectile coming into his general vicinity. He was also leery of the prospect of being required to stand in the small box and “take one for the team” if the throw was errant. The father repeated the instructions, reiterated that he (his son) has watched numerous baseball games, and reminded him that he’d been told and shown how to hit the ball. Again, there was no sign of success. The father became frustrated, almost as much as his son. After a few more sessions before practice started, both were angered and discouraged at the whole exercise.
I related this event to how we do our training. We bring experienced and inexperienced workers to the oilfield and put them in a relentless barrage of required training topics with canned presentations and tell them how to hit the ball. We explain what to do, how to do it, and what to watch out for. The new people are not believing the value or relevance of the training. The experienced ones are bored and resent having to do the redundant annual training. They both listen to and watch the presentation, take the 25 to 50 question test, and then go over the answers. The prospective employees correct the ones they missed and then they are ready to go to the field. Telling is not training.
Successful companies will have well defined policies and procedures in place. However policies and procedures will not guarantee success if they are not monitored and enforced. Most companies emphasize the first two pieces of the puzzle yet falter on monitoring and enforcement of the policies and procedures they have designed.
Another example of a blocked performance is the safety department itself. If a safety professional has the responsibility to enforce safety, they must also have the authority to go with it. Seldom have I seen situations where safety answers only to safety. Safety usually answers to operations. Operations rule the roost. It’s not popular for an operations manager to be approached on questionable safety practices. For the safety professional, such actions don’t exactly create a climate of job security. I know—everyone has the right or obligation to shut down a job that is deemed as unsafe. It is a catchy phrase that most progressive companies have adopted. However, a job reassignment or job dismissal is normally on the horizon following the taking of such an action. Sad but true.
So what is the definitive answer? It is impossible to capture a single answer of how we stop accidents. An effective safety program is as dynamic as the business itself. There is not one canned answer that magically stops all accidents. The answer is as diverse as the industry itself. One common ingredient seen in companies that are successful in safety is leadership by someone who genuinely cares about the welfare of their employees. Many say they care, and I believe they genuinely do. However, the decisionmakers are usually out of touch with how it is in the field. A perfect example is the television show Undercover Boss. I chuckle when these bosses go visit their business in undercover mode, and then they see how “it” really is. Usually, after a root cause analysis is performed, there is a propensity to blame an individual. If that’s what happens, then there are three reasons why that individual behaved in ways that were exceptions to the rules and training. That person was either unable, untrained, or unwilling to follow the rules and training. In our industry, the “unwilling” are the most dangerous.
Individual exception to the rules can be corrected through monitoring and enforcement. Most companies fall short in this area because safety does not generate revenue. Safety answers to operations. Safety has the responsibility without the authority. It’s an incredible balancing act that requires both operations and safety. If you ran off all the field workers that took chances, we’d have no one to work. The most successful companies have buy-in from both departments. The challenge is finding the quality and quantity of field personnel necessary for ground-level operations. It’s hard work. It’s dangerous work.
1. An effective HR department
2. Legitimate and in-depth background checks
3. Mentoring programs
4. Coaching and re-training
5. A well defined disciplinary program
6. People who care from top to bottom
7. Leadership and training
To loosely quote a famous saying, “Preach safety at all times, and if necessary use words.”
For a good resource for additional support for safety professionals or for businesses that are struggling with safety, consider the American Society of Safety Professionals. You can find the local chapter near you on https://permianbasin.assp.org/in
“It is not how many hits you have in baseball, it is how many times you 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.