Human error is blamed for all kinds of accidents in the oil and gas industry. No matter how many rules, reminders, and regulations are in place, worker mistakes are still the #1 cause of energy industry accidents - including Deepwater Horizon, history’s worst environmental disaster.
But wait: Wasn’t Deepwater Horizon caused by a damaged blowout preventer? Wasn’t that an example of an equipment failure, not human error?
No. According to investigators, it was the result of years of lax attitudes, buck-passing, and other destructive behaviors. Faulty equipment might be a symptom, but human behavior is the root cause of energy industry accidents.
A Two-Track Mind
Behavior experts suggest that in highly complex environments, like working in an oil refinery, people operate with a two-track mind that is both logical and emotional.
On one hand, people encounter risks with a logical mind that tells them to check the facts, be thorough, and err on the side of safety. On the other hand, they constantly encounter situations that require intuitive decisions, where risks are weighed against rewards.
It’s easy to tell refinery workers to think with their safe, logical minds. But in practice, the demanding work puts pressure on them to do things that threaten safety, like act fast, keep moving, maintain the flow, and not bring up issues that make them sound like a complainer.
Working With, Not Against, Human Behavior
The two-track mind is why 70% of safety initiatives fail. Most industrial safety programs assume that if people are constantly reminded to be safe, they will magically begin to think logically without risk-reward behavior.
But that’s just not … human. People will still take risks.
In an oil refinery setting, this means a worker might continue hooking up a hose, even though it looks frayed, because they want to make it home in time for dinner. A rig supervisor might skip inspecting storage tanks, because he gets no incentive to do it, and focus on other work that comes with a bonus check.
The world’s best safety programs take into account the effect of emotional decision-making on human behavior. Instead of trying to force people to be logical, these next-level programs work with human behavior, instead of against it.
Real-time in the Real World
For example, look at an innovative new app called FirstHand from Zeteky. It can be installed on the mobile phones of refinery workers, who then use it to upload real-time notes. When a worker spots a hazard, it just takes a few moments to alert safety staff and begin remediation.
Imagine how different this is from the existing system in place at most refineries. Currently, many still use an old-fashioned observation card system for reporting issues and hazards. Supervisors gather up the cards, read them, rank them, and implement solutions. It can take days to address glaring problems.
For a worker, FirstHand eliminates the time-consuming activity of dealing with cards. The app encourages them to think of safety reporting as a quick, no-hassle task. They are empowered to keep an eye on issues and prevent problems from happening.
It’s a shift in behavior that makes a huge difference in removing the barriers to safety.
Best Practices for Behavior-Based Safety
When implementing a behavior-based risk management plan, it’s easy to inadvertently sabotage safety. Avoid some of the most common pitfalls with the following best practices.
Don’t Be Big Brother
Consultants often tell energy companies that safety is an “observational process.” Beware of this advice. It amounts to recommending constant watching and nitpicking. Refinery workers will resent a company that does this, and exhibit even worse behavior, like avoidance and lying.
Don’t Add Penalties
Go positive, not negative. Don’t penalize workers for mistakes. Reward them for hitting achievement goals. Stick to positive reinforcement that creates an upbeat attitude toward safety.
Take a Look in the Mirror
Don’t just focus on hourly workers. Change comes from the top. Hold your top officers just as accountable as everyone else, and you’ll get better buy-in across the board.
Lead With Technology
Allow the power of technology to reshape worker behavior in a positive way. Unlike old methods that took one to two years to show significant results, new apps and software can help launch behavioral changes within days - even minutes - of implementation.
And it’s the best kind of change: welcome change. After all, 85% of people already have mobile devices right in their pockets.
Ready to reshape behavior in your organization? Request a demo of FirstHand by Zeteky.