Jun 11 2012
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Is HSE negligence in the oil and gas industry worth gambling?
Making headline news globally, the most fatal incidents associated with oil and gas operations have endangered lives, affected livelihood of nearby communities and posed substantial threat to the environment. The implications of these fatal accidents affect not only the organisation involved and its workers, but extend far beyond the industry itself, costing millions of dollars spent on restoration. Mostly blamed on industry practices and government regulations, these incidents could have been avoided. Repetitive tragedies convey that this sector has not fully learned lessons of the past and has much work to be done in keeping workplaces safe.
How much has the industry really learned from past catastrophes? According to ABB's North America Vice President on Safety and Health, Darryl Hill, thinks that in spite considerable public exposure and recommendations, lessons learned are not integrated long-term into industry safety and health management systems. "The safety and health profession and organizations in general do well in identifying causal factors, but we must do better to sustain improved safety culture awareness and ensure design in safety continuous improvement throughout the oil and gas industry," Darryl adds.
Olumide O Adeolu from the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) in Qatar seconds this statement commenting that standards continue to vary significantly from one company to the other, and also from one oil and gas producing country to the other. Olumide remarks on the short-lived commitment shown by the petrochemical sector, "There tends to be a flurry of activities after a major incident, but once media attention moves on, impetus for changes seems to reduce accordingly." The journey towards sustaining HSE excellence is not one of the easiest. According to Darryl, the challenge comes when management is confronted with competing interests - safety, productivity, schedule and quality, and many times safety is not a value, thus, it loses its focus even when the organization is aware why past catastrophes have occurred. Safety and health professionals must continue to keep incident lessons learned at a high level in the organization to prevent reoccurrence.
But of course, not all incidents end in vain. Putting forward a positive note on encouraging transformation that should be brought upon following each tragic incident, Richard A. Pollock, CSP, president - elect at American Society of Safety Engineers (ASSE), highlights the establishment of a non-profit organisation to address both safety and environmental issues in the Gulf of Mexico as a result of the Macondo Blowout in 2010 which is said to be the largest accidental marine oil spill in the history of the petroleum industry. Issues addressed include best practices, environmental control measures and emergency response training and execution. "It seems that true incident prevention thinking is evolutionary and though it may seem painstakingly slow, I do believe that the industry is learning from its mistakes. Much has been done in response to these horrific incidents."
Similarly, in any industry, it is not enough to achieve excellence. The true success lies in sustaining excellence in safety, culture and operational performance. Developing a culture centered on HSE, especially in the oil and gas sector, is fundamental to business growth. Sustaining HSE excellence is certainly, not far-fetched according to Richard, he states, "With the proliferation of management systems and best practices, the industry is addressing safety where there is no "black and white" requirement. They are doing what is "best" based on the current understanding of the exposure. This will morph as the understanding becomes clearer. Those that do not embrace this principle run the risk of sanctions by regulatory agencies, communities, peers, news media, the public, and ultimately the license to operate."
"Admittedly, there are still a few operators out there who are only compliance focused and doing less than what is expected of the industry. However, that pool is shrinking rapidly due to the peer pressure of recent events. Business demands are always extreme, but making sure operations, controls and work methods are safe is now a fundamental demand which cannot be compromised."
Dr. Grogan believes that HSE excellence has to be continuously demanded from its workers with leadership setting up the expectation. "We get what we ask for and if we aren't asking for HSE excellence, it wouldn't happen. If we don't really care for our people, then will they really care for their colleagues, will we be looking out for each other? So we have to keep repeatedly demanding constant care, for our people, and for process safety as well as personal safety," he argues.
Looking at a broader perspective, Olumide thinks that HSE professionals in general have to be persistent in stating their case for an investment in HSE in financial and business terms that organsations understand. HSE professional also need to be more systematic in identifying and demonstrating where real HSE (and thus, business) risks lie rather than focussing on simple and/or headline-catching initiatives.
Darryl considers discipline and fortitude are both required in improving safety culture and thus preventing tragic events. Too often, a tragic event occurs as a result of complacency. A paradigm shift is needed not only in approach but also in organizational thinking to sustain HSE performance. "As I stated ten years ago in an ASSE Professional Safety Journal article, 'Time to Transform: Assessing the Future of the Safety Profession', it was recommended that the HSE profession/ professional must shift from their traditional roles and past approaches to adding value to business and its new climate. This "new" philosophy requires that the total organization be involved in continually improving the work system."
Richard looks forward to hear from authorities in the field and meet others in Doha at the HSE Forum in Energy who are committing themselves to developing a prevention culture within their work setting. "The topics to be covered are impressive and should help attendees find solutions to pressing issues. I urge attendees to bring their questions and issues in need of solutions to the 8th HSE Forum in Energy. They will be rewarded by the wealth of knowledge available and the networking among peers.'
Dr. Grogan, Richard, Darryl and Olumide join the stellar speaker platform for this year's HSE Forum in Energy. Themed Refining the Vision: Turning Commitment into Reality, the forum with an associated exhibition will hold its 8th annual edition in the capital city of Qatar from 8-10 October under the patronage of His Excellence Mohammed Bin Saleh Al Sada, Minister of Energy & Industry, Chairman and Managing Director of Qatar Petroleum.
The forum will cast a harsher spotlight on HSE within this multi-billion industry to ensure a clean slate on its safety record.
Support from industry players have flooded in for the forum, securing speakers who are experts in the field including Saad Al Kubaisi of Qatar Petroleum, Ali Al Rahbi of Dolphin Energy, Dr. Qudsia Huda of World Health Organisation and Richard Birrer of Saudi Aramco Medical Services Organisation to name a few.
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