Greetings and Salutations! This month marks my fourth year as a contributor to this magazine. In one of my earliest articles, I referred to a presentation that I did that, in my humble opinion, established the top ten stark realities of oilfield safety. Even among my constituents in the safety field I knew some who took umbrage to my observations and viewpoint. Nonetheless, over the past four years in articles, I have explored each of those ten points individually. Having done so, the time seems ripe to recap the ten as a group. Their relevance in our world is undeniable.
And speaking for myself, my own concentration on these ten has given me such success as I have enjoyed in the field. To set the tone, I will reiterate my mantra regarding safety—a credo I borrowed from Teddy Roosevelt. It was Roosevelt who said, “I don’t care how much a man knows until I know how much a man cares.”
Stark Reality #1 – Highways are still the most dangerous part of our job, especially in the Permian Basin. Driving training carries some emphasis, but not enough. Even the driving programs, which require 40 hours (32 classroom and 8 driving) of instruction with driver training, represents less than 2 percent of total hours worked in a year. And yet, driving is the most dangerous and costly aspect of our job. I am glad the training for pilots requires more training by comparison.
Stark reality #2 – Safety is more of a prophylaxis measure to avoid fines and litigation from governing entities and lawsuits from lawyers suing for injury and deaths. The stark reality is that if the government didn’t require it, companies would do less of it. Still, I do not challenge companies’ intent, only their methods. Were training not required by regulators, even those companies that continue with safety training would likely trim back the hours they commit. As it is, we see more emphasis on the documentation of training efforts, as opposed to a focus on comprehension and execution in the field. Policies and procedures are largely driven by the perceived risk of governmental and legal intrusions. The training is the company’s effort to cover the backsides of its investors.
Stark reality #3 – Final filtered copies of Root Cause Analysis have transcended into avoiding and/or casting culpability. The three types of personnel failure stem from being being (1) unable, (2) unwilling, or (3) untrained. Occasionally there are mechanical or natural disasters that are not anticipated. Usually a contributing factor is an organizational failure. Such can result from a lapse in any of these areas: Command (policies), Apply (procedures), Monitor (inspect), and Enforce (measure-reward/discipline).
Stark reality #4 – Although most companies are well intentioned, all usually subscribe to “Work Safely.” No one wants anyone hurt. It is not from the decision makers in the office that workers in the field take their lead, regarding safety. Reference: Undercover Boss. It is an illuminating TV series. Inspect what you expect. Good, Cheap, or Fast—you can have two, but you can’t have all three, safely.
Stark reality #5 – Generally speaking, when it comes to most businesses in the oilfield, safety training is not effective. There is plenty of emphasis on the fact that it is required. But there is little emphasis on long term meaningful comprehension. The values behind the material are rarely enforced or reinforced. One useful requirement is this: the material is required to be given in the language of the recipient that it might be comprehended fully.
Stark reality #6 – The oil and gas workforce is not made up of MIT graduates. This does not diminish their worth as a human being or worker. Rather, the top here is that the skill sets are different in our field, as well as the opportunities. I’ve seen workers that are Mensa quality thinkers, yet who are not given the opportunities of others in life. The work is dangerous and unsavory. My father used to say, never let school interfere with your education. My point is, generally speaking, the values are inferred but not always understood or comprehended.
Stark Reality #7 – As I have stated in numerous previous articles, the oil and gas industry was founded on risk. However, in our industry, there are some who see risk as a challenge, yet have a high risk tolerance. Risk Takers! They must be identified quickly. I’m not talking about a crew in the top doghouse shooting craps. The people that hold no regard for life need to be identified and released as quickly as the law will allow. High risk tolerance can and should be identified, isolated, and mitigated, as soon as possible.
Stark Reality #8 – Qualified safety personnel should be visible in the field and know the hazards of the real world. The safety personnel should know the job, know the people, know their hazards, and know the procedures. If you do not know the battles, you do not know the answers. Communicate regularly with them and ask 20 questions, don’t utter 20 observations. Listen to the guys in the field. Maybe their family life is causing a lack of sleep. Care for their welfare. Be a part of the solution.
Stark Reality #9 – Follow the Money. I would like to preface this point by saying that there is no sin in profitability. Lack of safety programs are not the way to control the woes of profitability—quite the opposite. Smart safety efficiency can increase profitability, not diminish it. It is an investment in the people and their livelihoods. It boils down to priorities.
Stark Reality #10 – Safety helps keep the money that comes in the front door from going out the back door. E.g., insurance costs, equipment loss, environmental costs, stockholders’ loss.
What is important in your company? Billy Graham said, “Give me five minutes with a person’s checkbook, and I will tell you where his priorities are!” There are as many different philosophies in safety as there are safety people.
Find the ones that speak from the heart and mind and care!
As always, it is not how many hits in baseball that counts. It is how many times that you reach home safely that counts!
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.