Are oil and gas workers sweeping safety issues under the rug?

Systems that reward for low, zero incidents may be to blame

Are oil and gas workers sweeping safety issues under the rug?

Earlier this week, Global News released the results of an investigation revealing a culture of covering up safety incidents and blatantly lying on incident reports in the oil and gas industry. They spoke with various workers who said these practices were widespread and personally engaged in such activities.

When I inquired on LinkedIn if these practices really were happening, one individual who works in oil and gas in Calgary said it was “100 per cent true” and other commenters echoed this sentiment. Additionally, the majority of the comments on Global’s online article also said this is common practice.

But the big reason is why is this happening? One individual commented on LinkedIn that these practices exist “anywhere you have a system that disciplines during reporting or for mistakes, or systems that reward for low or zero accidents.”

This should give all safety professionals pause to examine their reward and recognition programs for low or zero incidents. Is it inadvertently creating a culture where workers are not reporting incidents or downplaying their severity?

Frank Urquhart, QHSE manager at Weatherford — a repeat winner of Canada’s Safest Employers awards — told me there are instances in the oil and gas industry where workers are reluctant to speak up about safety issues due to fear of reprisal. He said it’s more likely to occur on the “bigger projects where a bonus may be reliant on safety performance.”

Additionally, peer pressure to keep the number of safety incidents low can contribute to workers brushing these instances under the rug.

“Some of the new workers that are joining the oil and gas sector work alongside some veterans and I think they have a tough time using their voice when they think they should,” Urquhart explained.

I personally know of many exceptional oil and gas companies where actions like this are not tolerated. I have had the pleasure of working with many top employers in the industry who really do put safety first and have created a culture where workers are not afraid to speak up for safety. But the fact that this is going on in some organizations means safety professionals need to speak up and support each other. Raise the bar within the profession and encourage your peers to prevent this sort of thing from happening. Do spot checks so you can be there with employees when they fill out incident forms and let them know the expectation is that they are 100 per cent honest. Regularly seek feedback on safety and keep asking them if they have any concerns. And then ask again.

According to the Global report, one main reason why workers falsify safety reports is for job security. The article said they feel their livelihood is at risk if they don’t meet the expectations of management. So, change this. Make sure all employees know the expectation of management is safety first, production second. If workers feel safe and secure doing their jobs, numerous safety focused companies will tell you that production will naturally increase on its own.