When it comes to safety, the oil and gas industry has a timing problem. Most operations still use old-fashioned paper card observation systems to address safety issues. Typically, it takes a full 10 days for these cards to get from an individual oilfield worker to a health and safety manager.
During this lag, workplace hazards have plenty of time to get worse. Days and weeks go by without intervention from the company. Each passing minute increases the likelihood of malfunctioning equipment, worker injury, and major productivity losses.
A study of 6,183 offshore accidents by the International Labour Organization (ILO) found that delays in reporting were one of the biggest threats to the oil and gas industry. The study’s authors summarized their findings with the statement, “The challenge for the oil and gas industry is to be able to quickly and effectively respond to potential vast and serious incidents.”
But fast response is difficult when reporting is slow. The card system is clunky to use, and widely considered to be a hassle. Workers face huge pressure to keep working and not slow down to fill out cards. Health and safety officers are often either unaware of existing hazards or overwhelmed with a sudden backlog of reports.
Common Safety Issues
The ILO report found that the #1 most common cause of safety problems was the use of improper procedures, which led workers to attempt unsafe acts. When the result is a fatality, 3 of 5 on-site deaths can be attributed to caught-in or caught-between hazards.
All told, oil and gas accidents usually result from one of the following direct causes:
- Absent or unsafe procedures
- Equipment used beyond its design life
- Improper maintenance and testing
- Old and unsafe installations
- People and resource movement by road, rail, water or air
- Tired employees working long or unconventional hours
- Known hazards allowed to exist or worsen
The ILO also noted several indirect, but serious, safety reporting factors:
- Whether the company has an overall preventive health and safety culture
- Lack of buy-in from both workers and top management
- Inability to cope with crises like communicable diseases
- Psychosocial issues like stress, depression, and bullying
These issues make it difficult for companies to react quickly and appropriately to even glaring safety problems.
A Typical Scenario
Most safety issues arise from normal day-to-day work. In a common scenario, Worker #1 observes Worker #2 doing something unsafe, like cleaning buildup out of a line by hand rather than using equipment. This is reported on an observation card.
Slowly, the observation card makes its way through the system, from a site supervisor up to the health and safety officer. In the meantime, Worker #2 continues cleaning the lines by hand and gets his fingers crushed after an unexpected burst of pressure. Before the health and safety officer is even aware of the situation, a worker has a serious injury.
Weighing the Costs
These kinds of injuries come at a high cost for both oil and gas companies and their workers. The average number of lost workdays for a seriously injured oil and gas worker is a staggering 85 days, with a total cost of injury averaging between $109,965 and $332,098. Additional productivity losses have been found to range from $12,500 to $62,500 per incident.
Faced with these costs, many operations are turning to technology for a solution. An investment in reporting software/apps allows oil and gas companies to stop hazards in their tracks, before they become emergencies.
In the scenario described earlier, Worker #1 could have used an app like FirstHand to report the Worker #2’s unsafe procedures before the hand injury ever occurred. A health and safety officer would have re-trained them and protected both the worker and the company.
Click here for a demo of FirstHand by Zeteky, the reporting app that allows your company to react to safety issues within moments.