The position of health, safety, and environment (HSE) director is one of the most challenging in any oil and gas operation. Every day, these safety supervisors face the stresses of serious workplace hazards and complex risk management.

Challenges come from many corners. Company leadership may feel at odds with the HSE because they seem like nitpickers – but being detail-oriented is part of the job. Fellow employees may view them with caution or even outright hostility, depending on the company culture.

HSEs also face an ever-changing mix of challenging global issues. Let’s take a closer look at these large-scale factors to see how they impact HSEs and their companies.

The High Cost of Safety

One major issue facing HSEs is the balance between safety and spending. In theory, every oil and gas company wants to be 100% safe across the entire global operation. But the price tag of excellent safety can cause sticker shock. It often amounts to millions of dollars.

Training is costly. Personal protective equipment is pricey and frequently replaced. Entire zones of the operation might need to be re-designed to improve safety. It’s up the HSE to break all the bad news: Safety is expensive.

David Stagg, an oil field HSE for 29 years with companies like Shell and Chevron, calls this “The Money vs. Safety Problem.” HSEs can seem like a drain on the company’s finances, Stagg says, and their goals may come across as too pie-in-the-sky.

Cloudy ROI

In fact, return on investment (ROI) is another major challenge for HSEs. They’re often called upon to demonstrate direct ROI, even though safety management is really about lowering potential liability. For the company’s CFO, it may seem like fuzzy math.

Safety & Health Magazine examined this issue in a study of fatal workplace injuries counted by OSHA, the CDC, and the National Safety Council. They found that some safety-related numbers are easier to pin down than others.

Here’s an example. While it can be reasonably calculated that the average worker fatality costs companies between $990,000 and $1.42 million, it’s hard to say exactly how much those same companies are spending/saving on workplace safety. What’s the ROI on a hard hat? What’s the cost savings of a prevented injury? What’s the value of a human life?

To put it another way: Is $1 million spent today worth maybe saving $2 million down the line?HSEs are in charge of convincing their employers that yes – the costs are justified, even though the math is tricky.

Complex Risk Analysis

Another major issue for HSEs is the complexity of risk management across modern oil and gas enterprises. Even the smallest operations face the same challenges as the big dogs in the industry: global competition, strict regulation, staffing, lawsuits, resource planning, technological innovation, and much more.

This means the HSE needs to use dozens of formulas to calculate risk, then transform the results into real-world safety programs. That’s no easy task. Here’s just one example that shows the kind of calculation challenge an HSE faces.

One of the riskiest activities for any oil and gas operation is transportation. Moving resources and equipment across public highways comes with serious safety hazards. However, an HSE can’t recommend “stop moving resources.”

Instead, they have to find ways to analyze and minimize the risks associated with transportation. By studying safety reports, they might discover that 25% of their transportation accidents happen on the company dock when objects shift or fall during delivery. Now their role is to turn this fact into something actionable: worker training, safety signs, protective gear.

Watching 24/7

On top of all these other issues, the HSE is also in charge of watching everything, everywhere – keeping an eye on safety concerns across the company at all times. It’s incredibly challenging to monitor safety issues moment by moment and respond immediately to every issue that comes up.

Many HSEs are meeting this challenge with the help of technology. The CloseWatch Dashboard, which comes with the FirstHand app, tracks safety trends in real time on a global scale. It can be used for everything from worksite hazard reporting to advanced analytics.

For an HSE, this is a game-changer in safety management. Having the software is like having an army of safety-focused assistants positioned across the company. Even the most remote oilfield is tracked by the software with total transparency.

Safety is a big deal. It saves money. It saves lives. It makes oil and gas companies better places for workers and the world. Click here to request a demo of CloseWatch and FirstHand and see how they are helping HSE directors manage global challenges.