Column: Changing How We Manage HSE—Getting to Zero
For the more than 7 billion people on our planet, every measure of quality of life, from gross domestic product per capita and infant mortality, to education levels and access to clean water, is correlated to the consumption of modern fuels, including oil and gas. Now more than ever, our industry faces imperatives: delivering affordable energy more safely, economically, and sustainably—that is, in a way that responsibly meets the needs of today’s populations without jeopardizing the Earth or its future populations. Sustainability will depend on continuing to close gaps, not only in technology, but also in health, safety, and environmental (HSE) performance, to eradicate HSE incidents from our operations. The expectation is a future with an incident-free workplace and where everyone returns home safely each day. Closing the HSE gap will require major shifts in cultural, organizational, and human performance paradigms.
Changing the Culture
For years, HSE was seen as a regulatory obligation to meet government requirements. It was governed by, and managed in reaction to, rules and regulations. Control and discipline were prevalent. An incident-free workplace was generally not considered possible, and when it was considered, it was only as a vision, at best.
Over time, industry HSE culture began to shift from dependent to independent as the process and complexity of operations became better understood, and commitment to safety became more personal and individual. An incident-free workplace began to be seen as a possibility but still as a target to achieve rather than a realistic goal.
A further evolution from an independent to an interdependent safety culture took place over the first decade of the 21st century, with a stronger focus on cooperation within and across teams. Employees and well and asset team members began to see themselves as their peers’ keepers. HSE became recognized as “the right thing to do” for two very important reasons.
- It is part of our moral and ethical responsibility to our employees, customers, contractors, and the communities in which we work, and to the future of our planet.
- It is good for business. There is no downside to good HSE practices. Conversely, the cost of poor practices can drive companies out of business.
In 2009, a 3-day SPE Forum Series titled “Getting to Zero—An Incident-Free Workplace: How Do We Get There?” was envisioned in Park City, Utah, and held there the following year. The series heralded a new paradigm shift, in which an incident-free workplace became an expectation. The December 2015 JPT column by 2016 SPE President Nathan Meehan, “The Perfect Day,” explains the concept of “Getting to Zero” and describes the journey thus far.
Coincidentally, 2009 was the year when Baker Hughes made the decision to reorganize from a number of companies made up of product lines and services to a single company with an interdependent culture. This decision redefined who we were and how we did business, including how we manage HSE. With safety as much our purpose as energy, we made it integral to the company and outlined a business framework for it, as we did for other key aspects of the business. We were no longer content with incremental HSE improvement, and getting to zero became a reflection of who we were. The perfect HSE day became the embodiment of our definition of zero and all that was necessary to achieve it: teamwork, engaged and visible leadership, willingness to change, trust, a culture of perfection, a common HSE vocabulary, and a single, universal metric: zero. No longer would employees need to understand HSE acronyms, jargon, or incident rates. Instead, we defined the perfect HSE day as one in which everyone in the company arrives home safely, with no recordable injuries, no serious motor vehicle accidents, and no significant environmental spills. Success became easy to track. Either a day was HSE-perfect or it was not. Each day became a new opportunity to achieve zero, and every employee could see how his or her actions affected company outcomes. Zero was no longer a vision or target but an expectation.
The most powerful aspect of the perfect HSE day is the way it has engaged everyone in our company to think about HSE differently. It has catalyzed a culture shift and, in so doing, has produced remarkable results. In 2012, the year we began tracking perfect HSE days, we recorded 22. The number jumped to 42 the following year, then soared to 92 in 2014—the equivalent of a perfect quarter. Last year, we recorded 146 perfect HSE days. Already this year, we are achieving them at a pace that will place us well over 200 by year end. While this is remarkable, we have more room for improvement, both within our company and throughout the industry.
Drilling Through Data
A recent operator/supplier forum addressed the important question, “What can we do differently to prevent serious and sometimes catastrophic HSE incidents from happening?” The answer lies in two seemingly different but highly interrelated and interdependent realms: data science and human factors.
Data science unlocks hidden patterns in typically available information. For years, our industry’s technological advances in capturing and using data have enabled us to find and develop hydrocarbons to meet the world’s energy demand. Now, we are beginning to leverage data science to better exploit previously untapped revelations from safety and incident data. Our company uses data drilling to leverage concepts and techniques behind “big data” to enable us to reveal previously unseen personal and process-safety-related trends in existing safety-incident data for “near miss” incidents—where an event occurs but injuries or fatalities are avoided—and for incidents where harm was caused. The data come from a variety of sources both inside and outside traditional safety-related databases and helps us to more clearly understand the root cause of incidents, which precipitates more accurate intervention strategies and effective risk management.
What Lies Beneath
Preventing serious and catastrophic HSE incidents depends not so much in understanding how an incident occurs as why it occurs—because when we understand why something happens, we can take action to prevent it. This requires going beyond the industry view of seeing “why” as outputs of traditional root-cause tools such as TapRooT, ThinkReliability, 5-Why, and others. Too often, we use these tools to focus on who is responsible, what went wrong, and what people failed to do, assuming that human actions are the cause of incidents.
To more clearly answer the question of why, we must assume that human actions are influenced by systemic issues. Taking this approach causes us to dig deeper into the systems and processes of an organization, the influence of leaders, what we say and do, what we measure and what we do not, the culture of the organization, and how these factors influence employees.
To this end, we developed “What Lies Beneath,” a thought-provoking, interactive learning session based on a hypothetical, industry-stereotypical, dropped-object incident. While the exercise uses a dropped-object incident, the underlying learning outcomes can apply to prevent any type of incident.
The session challenges traditional thinking and allows participants to explore a different perspective on why something happened or could happen. It illustrates how human and organizational factors influence employee decisions and actions. It allows us to put ourselves at different stages of a workflow and ask ourselves, “What weaknesses do I see? What could lead employees to make poor decisions? What organizational factors are influencing the actions and decisions of the employees?” This approach does not absolve accountability of employees. Instead, it enables us to look beyond personal accountability and punishment, to identify and resolve the deeper systemic issues that contribute to poor decision making and, ultimately, HSE incidents.
HSE incidents are not just about the person, the equipment, and what happened at the rig or the facility. The issues go deeper—to gaps in processes and communication and to the culture and thinking of the organization that lie beneath an incident. Looking at what lies beneath is not just a forensic tool to analyze why things happened; it also can help us proactively evaluate our processes, workflow, and culture not only around HSE but also around every other aspect of the business. It answers the why of executing—or not executing—work flawlessly. To provide new insights and support collective industry efforts in getting to zero, our company is making its “What Lies Beneath?” materials freely available to the industry.
Our industry has made great strides in the way we manage HSE. Zero—an incident-free workplace—has evolved from a vision to a target to an expectation. Meeting that expectation will require maintaining the momentum. We are still working to align priorities, better develop a common HSE language, and enable a more widespread mindset that achieving a future with zero incidents is possible. We must continue to evolve our culture so everyone across the industry is empowered and responsible to make the right decision each and every time, and is supported by the organization and systems to be error free. And, we must do this in the face of ever-changing market conditions that can form a barrier to HSE commitment and making the best decisions.
Changing how we manage HSE is the next frontier for our industry. How we go about that change will shape the industry and the world it serves far into the future.
Jack Hinton, SPE, is vice president of health, safety, and environment for Baker Hughes. Before joining Baker Hughes in 2005, he was dean and professor at the Kazakhstan Institute of Management, Economics, and Strategic Research for 2 years. He previously spent 26 years at Texaco serving in leadership roles that included director of environment, health, and safety, and vice president of international petroleum.
Hinton sits on the Management Committee of the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers, is a member of the Kazakh-British Technical University Business School Advisory Board, and serves as chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Southwest Center for Occupational and Environmental Health.
Hinton holds a doctorate degree in occupational health and an MS degree in environmental science, both from The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Hinton also received a BS degree in biology and chemistry from Trevecca Nazarene University.