Chevron’s Shellebarger urges leaders to make safety a personal responsibility

To get to zero injuries, companies must have the right safety culture, which is driven by leadership, said Chevron’s Jeff Shellebarger.
To get to zero injuries, companies must have the right safety culture, which is driven by leadership, said Chevron’s Jeff Shellebarger.

The industry must make achieving zero injuries a personal objective in the workplace if we are to ever reach this goal, said Jeff Shellebarger, managing director for Chevron’s IndoAsia Business Unit. He was delivering the keynote address at the IADC Drilling HSE Asia Pacific 2011 Conference & Exhibition on 23 March in Singapore.

In his position, Mr Shellebarger is responsible for Chevron’s oil, gas and geothermal operations in the Philippines and Indonesia – not to mention the safety of the nearly 30,000 people across those operations. “I take it as my personal responsibility to make sure each and every one of those folks goes home everyday to their family without injury,” he said.

There’s also a business case to be made for safety, and Mr Shellebarger believes that is stronger than ever in this industry, with recent events in the industry bringing on a significantly higher level of expectation from governments and shareholders.

At Chevron, he believes the company has made sustainable progress in improving safety, especially over the last couple of years. “We’ve gone from probably near the worst in our industry to one of the best in our industry today. But we’re not where we want to be, and that’s zero,” he said.

To get from where they are now to zero injuries, Mr Shellebarger believes three elements will be necessary. First is a solid foundation. “You have to have world-class safety design, world-class safety processes, a world-class safety management system. People have to be trained, and most importantly, those systems and processes and training have to be consistently delivered from the top to bottom in your organization.”

The second part of achieving zero injuries is having “contractors or business partners you deal with that share the same value that you do with safety, that are willing to invest the time, energy and money into safe operational systems in their organization,” he said. “We each don’t stand alone in this business.”

With significant improvements already under Chevron’s belt, the next challenge is riding that curve to zero. “I would argue that it’s around safety culture and the leadership that drives the culture.”

For a roustabout or a welder on a remote offshore platform, world-class systems and supervision are not what’s truly driving their performance. “What keeps those folks injury-free is what’s in their heart and what’s going on in their head,” Mr Shellebarger said.

Critical elements that can be found in a zero-injury work environment include: “Workers and their supervisors have sufficient training and resources to execute their work safely. You see a work environment where the priority of injury-free operations is understood by all the workers… You see an environment where workers exercise their right to stop work if they see that themselves or their colleagues are not safe.”

Mr Shellebarger continued: “And finally you see a work environment where the workers believe that management is more interested in their personal safety rather than the numbers or statistics. For me and the operations I’ve been involved in the last couple of years, that was a great ‘A-ha!’ for the last two to three years … recognizing that you talk about the wrong subject when you talk about statistics to the workforce. They want to know you care about them, if you care that they’re going to go home to their families everyday.”

In his organization, Mr Shellebarger said, leaders are held accountable for specific behaviors that drive the right safety culture; they take personal accountability around safety performance. “If there’s an accident, they’re not blaming the standard operating procedure, they’re not blaming the equipment, they’re not blaming the contractor, they’re not blaming the worker. They’re trying to understand what’s going on,” he said.

Leaders also accept aggressive key performance indicators for workforce safety, and safety results are used against those targets in their own performance assessments. “If there’s an accident in our system as a result of a failure in a safety management system, in my opinion, it’s a result of a failure in our leadership accountability system.”

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  1. I work within a society that does not place any importance on personal safety while raising their own children. I do not believe the workforce within this country with such an upbringing would ever bring to the workforce a culture of “zero injuries”. I commend all who are working toward this goal within the petroleum industry, but I do not believe this is a reality in various parts of the world. Safety culture is not changed over night and will never be changed if the potential workforce is being raised in such an environment.

  2. We have a patent pending water borne offshore and inland paint system that has been approved by an international and well known major oilfield service provider. This product line is very low in VOVC and HAPS free therefore eliminating the majority of air emmissions. Additionally it eliminates many fire hazards, hazardous waste disposal and tremendousy reduces employee exposure.

    Who would I send information to with Chevron to introduce this product line.

  3. As someone who has worked in operations globally and now has his own company specialising in Competence Management I can say that the focus on Safety,Training and Competence is growing within service companies and operators, on the downside that focus varies significantly depending on which part of the world you are in.
    I to commend all those who are striving to achieve “zero injuries” and the culture change that is required however to achieve the end results the culture has to be consistent throughout the company and geographically.

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