The Perfect Day

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What constitutes a perfect day? It depends. To a surfer, it is a day of warm sunshine and perfect waves. To sports fans, perhaps a great win by their favorite team. We each have our own idea of what makes a perfect day.

Another aspect of a perfect day may not be a conscious thought but is of utmost importance: arriving home safely at the end of the day.

Last month, I wrote about how the Society of Petroleum Engineers’ (SPE) mission statement reflects the role of the Society and its members in serving the public benefit. This month, let us discuss how we are going beyond statements to actions to improve people’s lives by not only enabling affordable energy, but also by doing it in the healthiest, safest, and most environmentally responsible way possible.

HSE: An Evolving Approach

When I started my career, the topic of health, safety, and environment (HSE) was often seen as a regulatory obligation to meet government requirements. HSE is now recognized as the “right thing to do” for two very important reasons.

  1. It is part of our moral and ethical responsibility to our employees, customers, contractors, the communities in which we work, and to the future of our planet.
  2. HSE is good for business. There is no downside to good HSE practices. Conversely, the cost of poor practices can drive companies out of business.

More organizations are striving to eliminate or significantly reduce HSE incident occurrences. This trend in performance improvements over the past decade has plateaued. We need a breakthrough. This will not occur overnight; it will require a journey.

Getting to Zero

SPE has a long commitment to HSE and I strongly encourage you to visit its website at This free website for HSE professionals is an informative public resource. HSE is a growing discipline within SPE globally. OnePetro (www.­ now has 6,000 published HSE papers. As the number of professionals sharing knowledge on HSE increases, SPE offers the ideal place where they can gather, access resources, increase learning, and collaborate to improve industry practices.

The SPE journey to an incident-free workplace began with a forum titled “Getting to Zero—An Incident-Free Workplace: How Do We Get There?” Sessions addressed defining “zero” as zero HSE incident occurrences, management systems and metrics; understanding and developing a safety culture; stakeholders and their roles and importance; and taking the risk out of the work process.

Based on the success of the forum, a workshop was held in Houston in 2011 to enable more open sharing of information with 90 attendees from 10 countries and 55 companies. Outcomes of this workshop included identifying the top three influencing factors for getting to zero:

  • Having leadership commitment and engagement
  • Creating a culture of perfection
  • Having a common language of communication

Identifying these factors focused efforts on the desired outcome. It also provided a framework for ongoing discussion on three provoking questions for shaping exploration and production (E&P) industry HSE management going forward.

  1. How can leadership be effected and implemented?
  2. What is a culture of perfection? How can it be achieved?
  3. What does a common HSE language consist of and how does it gain acceptance?

On 30 June, the journey to zero was re-energized with the first in a series of global interactive sessions called “Getting to Zero—The Road to Stavanger.” I participated in this event via the web and was impressed at how well the web event and the live presentation in Houston were integrated. A second session was conducted in September in Stavanger, a third in October in Kuala Lumpur, and a fourth in Rio de Janeiro in December. Conversations will also take place in the Middle East, along with follow-up sessions in the United States. These sessions will culminate with an interactive workshop in April 2016 in Stavanger, prior to the biennial SPE International Conference and Exhibition on Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility.

These interactive sessions include in-room and online presentations and questions and answers with real-time polling of all participants. They will address the following questions:

  • Is getting to zero achievable?
  • What are the most critical values to achieving zero?
  • Which issues need more time?

We have an early consensus that achieving zero HSE incident occurrences is possible. The most critical core values, as identified in the initial sessions, are visible leadership, teamwork, and openness to change. Top influencing components needing more time and effort include a total alignment of all stakeholders in relation to a vision of zero, human behaviors and a common language of communication.

Getting From Words to Action

Lao Tzu was an ancient Chinese philosopher who is credited with writing the classic text, the Tao Te Ching. In it, he wrote

,” which is translated as “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Many cultures share the recognition that significant change cannot take place until action is taken to bring it about.

My employer has taken that first step on the journey to zero by revolutionizing the way the company manages HSE with the concept of a “perfect day” which equates to no injuries, no accidents, and no spills. Jack Hinton, vice president of HSE at Baker Hughes, participates in all of the “Getting to Zero” interactive sessions. When Hinton introduces his section of the program, he asks the audience to reconsider the concept of needing more time to address issues critical to achieving zero.

“We talk about needing more time, but do we really need more time, or is it more about needing to do something different, and needing to do it now?” asks Hinton.

This was the question facing Baker Hughes in 2009. We had made significant progress in standard HSE measures but it is hard for an employee to relate to a total recordable injury rate. What we did redefined who we were and how we did business, including how we manage HSE. We made a decision to reorganize from a number of companies made up of product lines and services to a single company with an interdependent culture. As part of this culture, we stated our purpose: enabling safe, affordable energy, and improving people’s lives. This purpose is defining; it is within the “DNA” of the people who make up the company.

As Hinton says, “When you have a purpose, you really do not have more time. The time is now.”

Safety is as much our purpose as energy is, so we made it integral to the company and outlined a business framework for it, as we did for other key aspects of the business.

The Perfect HSE Day

Like most companies, Baker Hughes was comfortable measuring HSE performance incrementally. Our journey caused us to fundamentally shift such that we were no longer happy with incremental improvement. Our employees wanted more, and our leadership supported it. Getting to zero became a reflection of who we already were, rather than a new initiative.

The perfect HSE day embodied our definition of zero and all that was necessary to achieve it: engaged and visible leadership, teamwork, trust, willingness to change, a culture of perfection, and—extremely important—a common vocabulary of HSE. The perfect HSE day that everyone throughout the organization could understand would require changing the conversation and changing the vocabulary.

We began with an internal communications campaign that included videos, testimonials, conversations, posters, a Web page, and resource materials designed to make getting to zero more meaningful and to help employees at all levels embrace it as much as possible. The perfect HSE day was defined as a day in which everyone in the company goes home safe, with no recordable injuries, no serious motor vehicle accidents, and no significant environmental spills. We began to measure and track perfect HSE days.

Everyone shares one simple metric for measuring success—no acronyms, no jargon, and no incident rates. There is one simple number: zero. Each day is a new opportunity to achieve it. Everyone in the company can see how their actions impact the company and its outcomes. On every day that we record a perfect day, each employee receives an email from our chief executive officer. It is the email I most look forward to each day.

Results have been remarkable. In 2012, the company logged 22 perfect HSE days. In 2013, the number improved to 42. In 2014, the total was 92, the equivalent of a perfect quarter. On 6 October 2015 we crossed the 100 perfect HSE Days milestone. Many of our operating units have recorded a year or more of consecutive perfect days.
Uncertainty and anxiety surrounding market conditions and other potential distractions have historically resulted in HSE incident rates trending up. We are seeing the opposite.

Moving Forward on the Journey

As part of our goal of making every day a perfect HSE day, we mine the wealth of information we have on any incident that occurs. We have identified five basic issues common to every incident, regardless of classification.

  1. Hazard identification: What hazards might I face while performing this task?
  2. Hazard control: How can I control the hazards to avoid being injured?
  3. Process education: Am I properly trained and do I understand the task?
  4. Change management: What is outside my normal scope of work?
  5. Sharing lessons learned: How can I share what I have learned with my coworkers?

Learnings are fed back into the HSE incident management system for future use. We are unsatisfied with being able to classify incidents and determine why they happened; we must fix them so they do not happen again.

This is not a campaign; it is a progression in our thinking. It has evolved into the way we do business. It can become the way business is done throughout the E&P sector. That is where we are heading. That is what we can accomplish when we envision every employee as an HSE professional. That is how we will get to zero.

That is the perfect day.

The Perfect Day

Nathan Meehan, 2016 SPE President

01 December 2015

Volume: 67 | Issue: 12

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