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Workshop Focuses on Improving Industry HSE Performance

Health, safety, and environmental (HSE) incidents have been trending downward in the oil and gas industry for more than a decade. The philosophy of running an incident-free operation has been embraced by the majority of industry participants. However, in recent years, the general observation is that HSE performance has remained static.

SPE recently assembled leaders in the field to try to find ways to reduce the number of workplace accidents. In 2010, a forum titled “Getting to Zero” was conducted. The outcome stimulated a range of responses and a follow-up workshop titled “Continuing the Journey to Zero” was held last fall.

The workshop in Austin, Texas, attracted 90 attendees from 10 countries and 55 companies. The topics covered:

  • The current state of safety leadership
  • Executive managements’ vision of the journey to zero incidents
  • Analyzing lagging indicators
  • How leading key performance indicators affect performance
  • Learning from incidents
  • Human factors engineering
  • Developing and sustaining a proper safety culture

The participants said that the industry has many examples of outstanding leadership and performance. They agreed that the session should form a continuing part of the growing global dialog on attaining the goal of zero incidents and decided that the results of the workshop would be made available to other forums.

Some of the presentations were made by people outside of the oil and gas industry, such as governmental bodies and the aviation industry. They stimulated interest and vibrant discussions. One topic was the general public’s view of the oil and gas industry. The worst reported HSE performance may be assumed by the lay person to be the industry norm. If true, the implications of poor performance obviously affect all participants in the industry. Another subject concerned “self-reporting” in the aviation industry. The notion that individuals are able to report below-standard behavior to the management without fear of retribution provoked a lively discussion.

Leading and lagging indicators sparked much interest. The maligned lagging indicators were shown to be still an essential part in the understanding of overall performance. They provided critical information in dissecting the causes of systemic failures. Leading indicators remain an elusive but much sought-after part of the goal of zero incidents. The participants support continuing work in making them a universally acceptable standard.

Experienced senior leaders gave invaluable insight into learning from incidents. A common theme was the removal of blame and the encouragement of honesty and openness in investigating root causes. The behavior of the senior leader is the crucial factor in unearthing critical lessons.

Human factors are key elements toward creating an illness- and incident-free workplace. Using a series of pictures of an industrial site, attendees were given a bird’s-eye view of how poor design guarantees poor worker behavior. The conclusion was that an investment in effective design prevented potential cost in injuries and rework. In addition, a full understanding of the limitations of human body movement can contribute to creating a safe and healthy operating environment.

In the final part of the workshop, a series of facilitated sessions sought to determine the drivers and levers in answering two fundamental questions:

  • How do we get to “zero”?
  • What is the next “big thing” in continuing this journey?
  • The group captured the influential elements in the process:
  • Ensure process safety is under control
  • Leadership, commitment, and engagement
  • A need for more sophisticated measurement and solutions
  • Effective training
  • Creating a culture of perfection
  • Ensuring a common language of communication
  • The need to learn better

After further discussion, the group chose the three top influential factors: leadership, commitment, and engagement; a culture of perfection; and a common communication language. The identification of the key components helps the practitioners in the field to focus on their common goal. They also provide a framework for ongoing discussion and action. The questions they raised evoked more challenging questions:

  • Leadership commitment is essential, yet how is it to be implemented?
  • What is a culture of perfection and how can it be achieved?
  • What does a common industry language concerning HSE consist of and how will it gain acceptance?

In conclusion, participants had a clearer understanding of the challenges ahead and the immediate steps to be implemented. Future conferences and workshops can take this work as a starting point for their deliberations.