Between 2009 and 2016, the Society of Petroleum Engineers facilitated a series of global sessions to develop ideas for the continued improvement of health, safety, and environment (HSE) in the industry. The diverse group of participants generated many valuable ideas for improved performance. The resulting technical report, “Getting to Zero and Beyond: The Path Forward,” sets the stage for continuing the discussion across the industry of the essential steps the industry must take to sustain zero harm.
For more than 2 decades, the oil and gas industry has set HSE goals that are focused on reducing incidents with the ultimate intended outcome that no one is hurt and no releases occur. The concept of zero harm, therefore, is not new to the industry. What has been a challenge for decades, however, is aligning on an effective pathway to achieve these goals. To attain zero harm, a step change in thinking, performance, and alignment around HSE is required across the industry.
When faced with these challenges, the industry’s alignment on an expectation of zero harm must encompass managing its risks as a high-reliability industry, and, given this goal, many opportunities exist for companies to focus their efforts on moving toward implementing generative characteristics common to high-reliability organizations.
Shift From Zero as a Goal to Zero as an Expectation. To eliminate catastrophic events in the oil and gas industry, it must revise the vision of zero. Defining zero harm as a goal implies that incremental safety-performance targets can be set, acknowledging that operations will harm today. Further, this thinking can lead to a detrimental focus on incidents and injuries that may lead to under-reporting of incidents, gaming of statistics, manipulation of incident definitions, and overly aggressive management of injury cases. A goal of zero suggests an unattainable numerical target of perfection. Rather, the industry needs to think of zero harm as an expectation at each and every moment. It must acknowledge the risks in the industry and, at the same time, expect that its people will go home safe today.
Perhaps this is a nuanced, subtle shift in thinking—from a goal of zero harm to an expectation of zero harm—but the difference between the two is the difference between focusing on future improvement and focusing on safety in the moment. This shift in mindset is imperative to eliminating catastrophic incidents.
Continue To Progress the Application of Human Factors. The cultural shift to being proactive, and ultimately to being generative, is causing a healthy questioning of how the industry has managed HSE.
The realization that the present suite of management and mitigation efforts can only yield incremental HSE performance improvement is profound, particularly when one considers how sacred the traditional approaches have become.
The industry should standardize a set of leading indicators that measure the degree to which human factors are being used. This would necessitate a common view of human factors.
Once a common understanding of human factors has been achieved, the industry can develop a common vocabulary and begin to drive a consistent culture that will help all companies with considerations such as resource planning and competencies.
Incident investigations and root-cause analysis can include a common set of human-factors attributes that would allow companies to better understand contributing factors in events that go well beyond the often-cited and yet narrow assessment that someone did not follow process or that the event was caused by operator error.
De-Emphasize Lagging Performance Indicators and Use Leading Indicators. The industry has become adept at gathering performance data on lagging indicators (events that have occurred) vs. data from leading indicators (risk-control measures). Measuring safety by counting injuries is easy, but measuring (and setting targets for) effective controls to reduce or eliminate risk is much more complicated.
Lagging indicators, such as total-recordable-incident rates, should not be the primary basis for assessing safety performance. Instead, to promote a more-accurate measure of HSE performance, and to focus the industry’s efforts on the effectiveness of safeguards and risk reduction, a balance of lagging and leading indicators should be used to measure program effectiveness.
The industry should agree upon an appropriate set of leading indicators. These measures would be the inputs required to result in the desired outcome of eliminating the worst incidents.
Optimize Collaboration Across Companies and Crews. Numerous opportunities exist within the industry to optimize collaboration. Some believe a rigorous bridging process between contract parties remains the single most important tool for collaboration. The process requires the parties to identify, document, and communicate hazards and controls in a bridging document that sets the stage for effective collaboration throughout a project.
Better standardization of terms will facilitate sharing. Standardization of HSE requirements can help support better collaboration between different companies working together. When the various parties on a job site are using the same rulebook, they are able to collaborate better.
The industry must establish and sustain a no-risk-to-sharing culture, with the goal of overcoming perceived risk and competition barriers. This is paramount to the identification and management of risk.
Remove Barriers to Open Sharing of Lessons Learned. Story telling is a powerful tool for educating and reinforcing attitudes. The industry should be telling the stories of its iconic safety incidents repeatedly. Likewise, sharing the success stories from jobs and projects successfully operated will enable learning opportunities from well-executed work.
The industry must create an environment where incident information can be shared across boundaries without fear of unnecessary regulatory reaction and burden, misunderstanding and mistrust by the public, and frivolous and counterproductive litigation.
The industry must adopt a more-open, transparent approach to sharing lessons learned from major incidents; high-potential near misses; and projects where, although complex and with considerable risk, the work was executed without incidents. If organizations in the industry do not share, they hamper the ability to learn from one another.
Collaborate With Regulatory Authorities. The technical report recognizes that certain legal systems can create an underlying adversarial relationship between industry and its regulators, but within this regulatory environment is room to improve collaboration and trust, which will lead to greater partnership.
What Do Individual Companies Do? The real power to break down barriers to get to zero ultimately resides with the operating companies because they drive contractor behavior in most of the world.
A collaborative environment and consistent safety culture is one in which all workers—regardless of the logo on their coveralls—look out for one another and challenge one another as needed to address hazards.
Interdependent HSE Culture. If a company has a mature, interdependent HSE culture, its employees are more likely to recognize and act on hazardous conditions. The DuPont Bradley HSE Culture Model (Fig. 1) describes the journey to an HSE culture in three phases—moving from a dependent phase, through independence, to an interdependent culture. In the dependent phase, HSE is mainly driven through use of control, discipline, rules, and regulations. As the culture matures, it moves through the independent phase, in which employees begin to take personal responsibility for HSE rather than simply relying on rules and regulations to create a safe work environment. The final, interdependent phase is characterized by a “peer’s keeper” approach that is adopted by all. In this phase, employees do not just look out for their own safety; everyone looks out for one another’s safety, and management works with employees on HSE matters collaboratively, feeling comfortable leading or allowing others to lead.
Operational Ownership of HSE. Interdependence is established by achieving operational ownership of HSE—that is, by employees assuming accountability for HSE performance and maintaining a safe work environment. Operational HSE ownership is characterized by employees looking out for one another, intervening in unsafe acts and conditions, and engaging with HSE to identify and implement risk-mitigating controls and processes.
Sustainable HSE Leadership. While operational ownership of HSE leads to all employees assuming accountability for HSE performance, senior leaders and managers are essential as a continual driving force in embedding this concept throughout the organization. Senior leadership and managers have a direct effect on establishing the culture of the organization and HSE behaviors in the workplace. The behavior of managers, through their influence on employees, can influence the HSE performance and HSE culture of an organization strongly. Only when senior leadership and managers adopt operational ownership of HSE will the rest of the organization follow.
The oil and gas industry has made great strides in the way it manages HSE. It must continue to evolve its culture so everyone across the industry is empowered and responsible to make the right decisions every time and is supported by the organization and systems to be error-free. Changing how HSE is managed is the next frontier for the industry. Zero harm is the expectation, and the industry has the strength, the fortitude, the commitment, and the resources to make it happen.
This article, written by Special Publications Editor Adam Wilson, contains highlights of paper SPE 190485, “Getting to Zero and Beyond,” by J. Jack Hinton, SPE, Baker Hughes, a GE company; Colette M. Glencross, SPE, True North Concepts; Tony Zamora, SPE, ERM; Tom Knode, SPE, Athlon Solutions; and Andrew Dingee, SPE, ADE, prepared for the 2018 SPE International Conference on Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility, Abu Dhabi, 16–18 April. The paper has not been peer reviewed.
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