A positive, proactive company culture is the magic ingredient for oil and gas industry safety, according to safety experts. But culture isn’t something that can change overnight. It involves significant efforts of time, money, and personnel.
The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) conducted a large-scale study of oil and gas safety issues, in order to make new recommendations in the wake of disasters like Deepwater Horizon. The BSEE found nine characteristics of a safe oil and gas culture.
9 Safe Culture Characteristics
- Leadership commitment to safety values and actions
- Respectful work environment
- Environment for raising concerns
- Effective safety and environmental communication
- Personal accountability
- Inquiring attitudes
- Hazard identification and risk management
- Proper work processes
- Continuous improvement
How does a company develop these characteristics? It can only happen when there is a concerted, company-wide effort to address underlying attitudes and implement new protocols that put safety first. Here’s a 5-step plan to get there.
STEP 1: Explain Why Change is Essential
First, company leaders must accept that there is a problem in the first place. Unsafe cultures often have strong incentives to keep the status quo, like shared norms about cost savings and time pressure. Make it clear that change must occur.
Show what’s wrong with the current system. Help your leaders understand that employee reminders and behavior correction aren’t working. Point to hazard statistics and critical safety flaws that pose risk.
Change comes from the top, so you’ll need your leaders totally bought into the culture shift. They can be ambassadors for change down through the ranks of your company.
STEP 2: Develop a New Plan
Your new plan shouldn’t be a set of ambiguous goals without clear action points. It should be fully researched, thoughtfully developed, and written out for easy sharing. A good plan includes:
- Clear goals
- Measurements and benchmarking
- Enforcement, with positive preferred over negative
- A feedback system for workers
- A timeline
- Periodic measures of success, like short-term wins
- Long-term milestones
- Recognition of employees for positive behaviors
STEP 3: Implement, With Help from Workers
When it’s time to implement your new safety plan, introduce it as the new culture and attitude of the entire organization. To get a baseline on where your employees stand, give everyone a short safety questionnaire to gauge current attitudes, knowledge, skills, and training needed.
In fact, make training a huge part of your implementation plan. Rather than judging or penalizing employees for their lack of safety knowledge, take a positive approach and view all issues as opportunities for more training.
Encourage workers to give feedback - even if it’s tough to hear - and be open to unusual ideas that could improve safety. View your employees as experts on work site hazards, because they are experts: every day, they’ve been seeing safety issues top management has been overlooking.
STEP 4: Make it Sustainable
A safe culture requires a commitment to continuous improvement - constantly refining and updating the plan itself. Find ways to make your culture changes permanent, so you don’t accidentally slip back into unsafe habits.
Here are a few sustainability tips:
Reward safety achievements. Give the entire operation a bonus for reaching a safety goal. Recognize individual employees who consistently meet safety standards.
Don’t become overconfident. Employees who are overconfident are at high risk for safety errors and should receive additional training and incentives to stay safe.
Evolve it over the years. A plan from 5 years ago probably doesn’t address your company’s new needs and environment. Review it annually and plan for major updates every 5 years.
STEP 5: Use Experts and Software
To ensure your new plan truly reshapes your company’s culture, engage the help of experts who specialize in industrial safety. Zeteky, a safety software company, developed its safety-first approach through consultations with law enforcement and the U.S. military.