Why oil and gas safety manager is motivated by psychology

Ryan Sloan explains how two separate tragedies spur him on to change the way workers think

Why oil and gas safety manager is motivated by psychology
Ryan Sloan, Birchcliff Energy

Ryan Sloan’s career has been marked by two separate tragedies that motivate him to change the way workers think. The health and safety manager for Birchcliff Energy says you can save lives by influencing behaviours and he is “really fascinated” by psychology.

“How do you get people to change their paradigms or their beliefs, and to make sure they do go home?”

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Sloan built car washes for a living before he decided to get into the oil and gas sector as a field operator in the early 2000s. He became interested in safety and was in the middle of an interview process for a safety role when someone he knew died on the job at the age of 24.

“His spouse worked for us. I played hockey against him the night before. And unfortunately, he passed away the next day, and it was very, very preventable,” says Sloan.

There is another incident that keeps safety at the front of Sloan’s mind, but it didn’t happen on a job site. A colleague and friend of his lost his child at home. Sloan says his friend was always safe at work, but he didn’t take that mindset home with him - “it was pretty standard, very simple, something you would have done on a regular basis at work. But when he was at home, he didn't think that it still had the same risks and hazards.”

Changing the way someone thinks, both at work and at home, is no easy task, especially when many of the people you work with have engrained habits and ways of doing things. “Cultural beliefs is a big piece of it,” says Sloan, who works with people who have been in the oil industry for as long as 40 years.

Read more: Does your company offer a great safety culture program?

Early in Sloan’s career there was one supervisor who “was running around in sweatpants, running shoes, and a hard hat.”  Sloan says safety knowledge and the level of priority it is given has evolved over the years, “you look back and go, 'wow, that's a lot of risk there'.”

That heightened safety awareness also needs to come from the top down, according to Sloan. He says there was an “old school mentality of people get hurt, that’s the cost of doing business.” But now that’s changed. "We can stop and take the time to do it safely, that’s the cost of doing business.”

It is the kind of culture he’s helped create at Birchcliff Energy. Sloan says one of the big challenges right now for oil and gas is attracting people to the industry. “We want people to want to come to work for us, and their family members to see that we're a company that is going to help them get home at the end of the day.”

Sloan says reputation in a small community like Spirit River, Alberta goes a long way. Part of building a solid safety reputation is creating a culture of positive reinforcement. Sloan says they do it by celebrating safety. "Find somebody doing something right, and promote that and recognize it," he said.

It is one strategy Sloan uses to change behaviours and shape the way workers think.