2010January/FebruarySafety and ESG

Industry should embark on new safety evolution to encourage common values in the workplace

By James J. Thatcher, EnCana Oil & Gas

Before we can begin to discuss value-driven safety, we need to understand the history of the safety function as a discipline in the oil and gas industry and how it has evolved through the years. The discipline of safety in the US has gone through three evolutions, with the first organized one beginning in 1941 and the subsequent ones through the present time.

Turning the old safety pyramid (above) into the new safety pyramid (below) reflects that at-risk behaviors account for most of the volume and weight of safety incidents. Using this kind of model, the industry can concentrate its efforts on the at-risk exposure by behavior, while also making sure that safety management systems are in place.
Turning the old safety pyramid (above) into the new safety pyramid (below) reflects that at-risk behaviors account for most of the volume and weight of safety incidents. Using this kind of model, the industry can concentrate its efforts on the at-risk exposure by behavior, while also making sure that safety management systems are in place.

The first evolution centered on the three E’s: equipment, educate and enforce. These elements focused on identifying and designing the safest equipment, environmental settings and redundant fail-safe systems, educating operators on the function and use of the engineering interventions, and using discipline to enforce compliance with operating parameters and safe work practices.

Those control points achieved an amazing level of safety and environmental performance in our industry. But we knew we could do better.

The second evolution began in the 1960s and added three more E’s to the mix: ergonomics, empowerment and evaluation. These elements were designed to enhance and strengthen the equipment, educate and enforce elements.

The ergonomics element taught us how to better design and construct our facilities through the relationship between the work platform and operator behaviors based on engineering at the work space. The empowerment element provided a means for constructive input from the operators, through and up to the end product. The evaluation element concentrated on industry’s “failure rates,” things like OSHA recordable cases, including fatalities.

This kind of evaluation needs doing because all failures must be analyzed so changes and improvements can be made to the systems, conditions or behaviors that are the causal factors of the incident. We’ve done a good job of analyzing these lagging indicators, the frequency and severity rates, but we know that a lagging indicator measures our failures.

When you think about it, the total reportable incident rate (TRIR) is a negative, no matter how low it is. What other discipline measures failure rates and celebrates when it moves a little lower on the scale?

We have come to understand that we need to add leading indicators, then measure both of them. Leading indicators are things the worker does consistently that focuses his attention – and become front-of-brain thinking and doing to provide a climate of an acceptable level of risk while performing day-to-day tasks. Serious thought should be given as to what these activities are, but examples are the number of completed and analyzed at-risk observations, the number of hazard ID’s reported and closed, the number of JSAs completed and QC’d, the number of risk assessments completed, etc.

If the right leading indicator activities have been selected and acted upon, there will be a direct correlation between those activities and the TRIR.

The third element was introduced into the safety function in the early to mid-’80s and is still a large part of how we structure safety programs in most companies. The behavior approach to safety came into play when the majority of analysis performed after incidents indicated that the causal factors were not equipment, conditions or systems, but behavior. The behaviors were mostly shortcuts being taken, habits that people had formed and communication issues, either one-on-one or across organizational boundaries. So safety practitioners installed behavior-based programs or systems. This addition to the six E’s has made a difference – we think.

It is truly hard to tell, through standard safety performance analysis tools (such as measuring TRIR), if the behavior factor has had an impact on how people perform their jobs, especially when the experts in the field premise their selling points with, “The behavior approach is designed for those companies who already have low TRIF’s” and “This process will help you sustain that low TRIF and help bring it even lower.”

Who would not want to have a sustainable low TRIF, especially in our high-risk work environment where employee turnover is a problem for some and the aging work force is a problem for others? But can we say with certainty that the behavior approach has enabled a step-change in our safety performance? I’m not sure.

Now we come to my main message: I propose the oil and gas industry be the leading edge in the fourth evolution of safety. This evolution focuses on something that some of you are already doing, so it’s not new. We just need to organize it, give thought as to how we introduce it, communicate it, roll it out to the work force, and manage it as an integral part of our safety systems model.

We’ve all heard the word culture, and some of us have included the word in our approach to safety, either as consultants or employees of a company. I call this “culture-based safety.” It is based on the simple premise that we do what we do in life based on our core value system. Good or bad, safe or at-risk, behavior starts and stops with what our values are, how they were formed and how they have been reinforced and rewarded throughout our lives.

Reflect on our own lives and how we get through life. All of us have learned how to negotiate – and all of us who have a value system will never compromise those core values, either good or bad, no matter what the cost. That’s what a value system is. When we apply this to people at their work, would not that same value system apply? I think it does.

With that premise, we can be reasonably certain that a value system goes with and is applied to whatever it is we are doing and wherever we are doing it.

I mentioned that values are formed and reinforced all through life, and that is true. But new values are added, and old values are discarded when new information or new expectations are internalized. Basic core values, like religion, family, honor, duty and country never change in most of us. Another important value is our value of ourselves – self-respect.

A large part of our self-respect comes from knowing that we’ve done the very best we can in our day’s labor, and we have tried hard to please our boss. As a matter of fact, most of us will actually put our lives at risk to please the boss. Not because we are sucking up, but because it is important to us to do our best. The boss is concentrating on TD and turning to the right – and his message is clear. “Our priority is gittin er done,” and he is right. That is the first priority and, in the real world, always will be.

If his value system and the worker’s value system don’t include “my safety, his safety and our safety,” safety as a priority gets shoved behind the first priority. But if safety is a value to everyone on the rig or at the facility, then it can never be pushed back because values are not affected by priorities.

We understand that values are what drive us, and values plus the work climate are what create the work culture of the organization. Would we not conclude that we need to concentrate our resources in this area and create the kind of culture that educates our executives, managers, front-line supervisors and hands on this thing called value-driven safety?

To accomplish this, we need a system, a process, a way to install and instill a different picture. A different reality within the organization takes shape and form and substance.

There are four steps to this process:

Step 1

Include leading indicators when measuring safety performance. This sends a clear message that the things we do out there are what keeps us safe. At the same time, it sets performance-based objectives and expectations. This keeps the focus on safety by integrating it into our daily job activities. It also sets the framework for the kind of safety culture we want in the organization.

Step 2

Educate the executive leadership team on how to create the kind of safety culture that internalizes the value of safety vs the priority of safety. Then educate every level of management down to the front-line supervisor so that there is no disconnect. Then take the message to field locations and educate the hands. By that time, the people doing the educating should be their boss and his boss and sometimes even the boss above him, so that the message is crystal clear. This is not being driven by the safety team – it is being driven by the line organization.

I did not use the term “train” because to train is to lecture and give tests, but to educate is to bring light to dark places. We want this light to be bright and sustaining.

Step 3

The safety and training folks in the organization need to experience a paradigm shift in their approach to safety training. When we look at what we train people in and what tools we use, safety training modules are built either around awareness or compliance. The awareness modules use compliance, either with OSHA, EPA, DOT or a state regulation, or even a company rule or best practice. The trainee is at least familiar with the rule, standard or compliance issue.

That’s OK because he needs to know that. Unfortunately, he is under the impression that if he is in compliance with the standards or in conformance with the rules – he’s safe. That is the problem, and it’s why the injuries keep coming, over and over. Analysis of the causal factors of incidents show that it’s not the conditions, equipment or process – so it must be behavior. But what is causing the behavior? That is the component we are missing.

I contend that we need to not just train in and around the standards or rules, but we need to educate our employees in recognizing, evaluating and mitigating risk. It is obvious we are not hitting the mark. The educating I’m talking about is on how to build the culture of “I own safety,” “I can and do value safety like I do my other core values” and “I will never compromise that value, no matter what.” That is the cornerstone of the education process.

In life, we know what we know – and most of us know what we don’t know, and that’s usually enough. In the high-risk world we live and work in, it’s “what we don’t know we don’t know” that gets us hurt.

That new roustabout does not know he’s not supposed to stand between the hauler and the skid it is moving into position by a cable. All he knows is that his job is to guide the skid into place. He’s safe because he is not positioned between the skid and the hauler. He’s standing to the left of the skid, but, in order for the hauler driver to see him, he has to lean in. He does not know that if the cable breaks, the tension on the cable will result in it whipping back and forth at tremendous force. When it strikes him, it will cut him in half. He does not know about situational awareness, or being at-risk.

To educate people on at-risk situations, we need to define the terms we will use: at-risk behavior, at-risk conditions, unsafe behavior, unsafe conditions, near-hit and situational awareness.

Most people use the term “near-miss.” This is an oxymoron. How can there be a near-miss? Either there was a hit or a miss. But there can be a near-hit. It happened, and it almost hit you. This way of looking at it helps us realize we experienced “an unplanned release of energy,” and since I did not plan for it to happen, I had better find out why it happened and fix the cause. We’ve just changed the paradigm from being lucky (it missed me) to (I almost got hit); I need to fix this, or have it fixed by someone who can, and make sure it happens.

That is the internalization process. Now I own safety, for me and for my fellow workers.

Step 4

How we define the tools we will use in the fourth evolution is important because we build our culture from those definitions; our education modules will be built around these terms and definitions.

At-risk behavior: doing something that could get you hurt, but not in violation of a standard or in non-conformance with a rule.

At-risk condition: a situation connected with the physical condition of the workplace that could get you hurt but is not in violation of a standard or in non-conformance with a rule.

Unsafe behavior: at-risk and in violation of a standard or in non-conformance with a rule.

Unsafe condition: a situation connected with the physical condition of the work place that could get you hurt and is in violation of a standard or in non-conformance with a rule.

Near-hit: any situation, either condition-based or behavior-based, that caused an unplanned release of energy that almost but did not result in personal injury, equipment damage or business interruption.

Situational awareness: You are able to create and maintain an accurate real-time mental model of your reality.

In order to accomplish this, you have to know what you know, and what you don’t know. What you can do and what you can’t do. And understand how judgment can be affected by circumstances.

Our efforts in training, teaching and educating employees must include and be centered around risk awareness, risk evaluation, risk avoidance and risk mitigation at the “boots-on-the-ground” level.

We must include real-world, real-time experiences in the training. An actual walk-about, work-about scenario that demonstrates the “ladder of risk,” the “risk chain” and the “personal margin of safety concept.”

We must teach the SEE principle: search, evaluate, execute and demonstrate the fundamentals.

We must ingrain in our employees the concept of personal responsibility for their job preparation and their behavior.

We must incorporate into our training the understanding of what a “scotoma” is (a blind spot). “I just don’t see the risk, either because of how I was trained or I was conditioned to see what I see.”

Our work climate, which creates the culture, must include “peer care,” with one-on-one discussions between the hands, and at-risk observations that are analyzed and discussed at safety meetings, or tool-box gatherings so changes can be made to the at-risk behavior before an incident or injury occurs. This is carried out with respect for one another in a constructive manner, not in an “I gotcha” frame of mind.

The safety pyramid commonly seen in this industry depicts a series of events that occur from bottom to top – eventually resulting in a fatality. This depiction of the hierarchy of events suggests that these are stand-alone incidents, but somehow correlate to the incidents below it.

Statistically, however, when we see the pyramid used this way, the statistics are not consistently in alignment with the level of incidents or the number of incidents that have occurred. This has been frustrating for those of us in the safety discipline because there is no real database that supports the ratio of incidents that are sometimes used to support the statistics from one industry to another, or onshore vs offshore, because in many instances they are lumped together.

As a way to make life easier in the statistical world of capturing the numbers, let’s keep it simple.

I propose to turn the pyramid on its head. Engineers deal with volume, weight and space all the time, and the pyramid should reflect these kinds of criteria. Our new safety pyramid should reflect a hierarchy of events, so we start with the premise that at the top of the pyramid are those things that happen the most – the at-risk behaviors, which account for most of the volume and weight.

Then we add the near-hits, which add even more volume and weight; then the first aid, medical treatment, restricted duty and lost-time cases. The sheer  volume and weight of these events just about guarantee, through the rule of statistics and probability, that there will be a fatality, given enough time, if there is no reduction in the volume of the incidents. With this kind of model, we can concentrate our efforts on the at-risk exposure by behavior, given that the safety management systems are in place and the conditions are under control.

Now we have the tools in place to understand that people have core values, and they bring them to work. Our task is to add our value system to those values. It is to educate our work force in risk and situational awareness, rather than just the rules. And to implement the proper leading indicators we expect our work force to conduct and perform in their daily tasks. We apply the right amount of focus on identifying and analyzing at-risk behavior so the behavior can be changed before an injury occurs.

If we approach this process from a holistic approach and apply the elements outlined in this article with respect and dignity, we will have created a climate that produces the kind of culture we are trying to achieve.

Our core values become their core values if the employees and our contractors believe we are doing the right things for the right reasons. They do this because they will trust that the values are the right ones.

As Warren Buffet has been quoted, “Price is what you pay – value is what you get.”

The internalization of safety as a value to every member of the oil and gas industry is what will help us maintain continuous improvement relative to keeping employees safe in our ever at-risk world.

This article is based on a presentation at the IADC Health, Safety, Environment & Training Conference & Exhibition, 26-27 January 2010, Houston, Texas.

Related Articles


  1. I also believe that this approach to Safety will bring a positive overhaul to the way we run safety today, assisting us on our Mission to Zero. I would urge all oarties involved in O&G implement culture-based safety. It is worth it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Back to top button