Poor oil economy has good and bad safety implications: Enform

The low price of oil has significantly impacted companies in Western Canada, from massive layoffs to project delays, and worker safety is also affected — for the good and bad, according to Cameron MacGillivray, president and CEO of Enform.
“It’s particularly important in tough times for us to show our true colours around safety,” MacGillivray said at Enform’s Petroleum Safety Conference in Banff, Alta., on May 6. Enform is the safety association for Canada's upstream oil and gas industry.

On the positive side, layoffs have resulted in many oil and gas firms keeping their best, most competent people. This includes safety professionals and work crews.

“So what happens when you have the more experienced crews? It improves your safety record. These are people that are more experienced, more reliable, so there tends to be an improvement in your safety performance,” said MacGillivray.

A delegate at the conference who works at a major oil and gas company said safety at her firm has been heightened because people are afraid of getting laid off, so they are paying extra careful attention.

On the other hand, when the price of oil comes back around, these companies will have to hire new workers to replace the staff they let go. And when companies bring a whole bunch of new workers in when there’s a sudden surge in activity, they tend to have a rise in incident rates, said MacGillivray.

“These new folks maybe don’t have any background in the industry and now you don’t have some of your key people to help train them and bring them on board and provide some guidance,” he said. “That is the more worrisome thing.”

Cash-strapped companies are cutting more and more training for their workers, including safety training. Enform has recently seen a dramatic change in the number of people coming through its training system.

Delegates at the conference echoed the fact that their companies are cutting training and professional development. In one case, workers who were nearing completion of their educational requirements for the Canadian Registered Safety Professional (CRSP) were told to put their courses on hold until further notice.

Enform’s conference had 500 delegates this year, a decrease from 950 in 2014.