What does a safe culture look like in the oil and gas industry? Major disasters like Deepwater Horizon might make the public think it’s out of reach, but the energy industry actually has some of the highest safety standards in the world. Some companies just need help reaching them.

The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) conducted a large-scale study to help oil and gas companies develop safer and more accountable cultures. They found 9 key characteristics of a safe culture:

  • Leadership that makes safety a priority
  • Work environment built on respect
  • Employee comfort with raising concerns
  • Effective safety and environmental communication
  • Personal accountability at all levels
  • Support for inquiring attitudes
  • Hazard identification and risk management
  • Clear and safe work processes
  • Continuous improvement

In the right kind of culture, there are company-wide effort to address underlying attitudes and implement new protocols that make safety a priority.

Pressure Prevents Accountability

Truly safe cultures come from significant investments of time, money, and personnel. Long-standing habits and procedures sometimes need complete overhauls. When safety methods are studied, companies are often surprised to find that their tried-and-true methods are actually failing them.

Some safety experts lump these failures into a cultural defect called “sanitizing upward.” This means that as problems are discovered by the lowest-level workers, they are minimized and sanitized by each successive report upward to supervisors. By the time the information reaches top management, it doesn’t seem like a big deal – even if it’s a major problem.

Take, for example, the use of paper observation cards to report safety violations. Most oil and gas companies still use these cards to note hazards, pass them along, and make changes that improve safety.

This common procedure leaves plenty of room for error. Employees may fail to fill out cards because it’s a hassle, or because they fear retaliation. Supervisors might forget to gather the cards and pass them along to the right person – or they might feel pressured not to pass them along at all.

Plus, the whole process described above can take days or weeks, while hazards get worse. By the time a safety supervisor is made aware, a disaster could be right around the corner. And all the while, the company owner might be kept completely in the dark.

This example highlights the need for more openness and transparency in safety reporting.

A Culture Shift, Powered by Technology

Many oil and gas companies are now trying a new way to move their cultures toward safety: with technology. Paper cards are becoming a thing of the past, replaced by software and apps that offer mobile reporting.

An app like FirstHand by Zeteky allows oilfield workers to trigger instant alerts with location pinpoints, photos, videos, text notes, and audio notes. When they see a hazard, reporting is fast and right at their fingertips on a mobile device.

This brings benefits that directly support safety culture, like:

  • Immediacy in dealing with safety issues
  • Support from management
  • Ease of use for employees
  • No fear of retaliation, with anonymous reporting
  • Employees are empowered and accountable
  • Clear procedures that make safety a priority

A New Culture of Safety

With a reporting app and proper training, employees experience a new kind of culture where accountability is welcome. If they see someone failing to follow a procedure, they can report it in the name of safety, without feeling like a tattletale. When personal protection equipment is missing, they can reach out for help and get back to work quickly.

For health, safety, and environment managers, this is a welcome shift. Finally, there’s transparency in day-to-day hazard management. It’s easy to see where problems are located. Problem-solving happens within minutes, not weeks.

And company owners are finally certain that they’re getting accurate information. Real-time reports highlight critical issues and threats to public safety. Everything is dated and time-stamped, which is especially handy when government regulators come calling.

A culture of safety and accountability is within reach. Download our free 101 Safety Talk Topics and help your crews prevent injuries and hold each other accountable.