Oil and gas industry safety culture in the spotlight

Oil and gas industry safety culture in the spotlight
Enform, the safety association for Canada's upstream oil and gas industry, is focusing on developing, measuring and getting executive support for safety culture.
After the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, there has been an increased scrutiny on safety within the industry.

“It highlighted 'What are the values of the oil and gas industry? Do they have a strong safety culture?'” said Cameron MacGillivray, president and CEO of Enform, at association's Petroleum Safety Conference in Banff, Alta., on May 6.

While there is no universal definition of safety culture, most people can agree it at least includes values, beliefs, norms, practices, training and sharing of best practices, said MacGillivray.

“We like to take the topic of safety culture that sometimes can sound kind of nebulous… and turn it into things we can do — call it operationalizing safety. Things we can do, things we can measure. How do we know we’re being successful?”

Enform is working on developing two tools for safety culture. The first is one that assesses an organization’s current state of safety culture.

“How do you get a good feel for where you are? Do all the participants in your company feel you’ve got a good, strong safety culture? How do you determine that?”

The second tool will then be to measure improvements in safety culture.

One of the most important things in developing a strong safety culture is ensuring senior managers support it. For example, executive leadership needs to support tough choices that need to be made in the name of safety.

“Maybe you had to shut down operations because something’s not working right or maybe you need to send a worker home because they are not fit for duty that day. The front-line supervisor has to believe if they make these decisions, their executives will stand behind them,” said MacGillivray.

Enform just released an online, interactive guide for executive safety leadership. It aims to provide practical advice for what executives can do to show they support safety.

“It’s important to believe in safety, but it’s more important you express safety in what you do, what actions you take, so your employees can see that this is important to you,” said MacGilivray.

The guide helps leaders learn what they can actually do to demonstrate their commitment when they are in the field with front-line staff.

“One executive said to me ‘All I know is not to touch anything.’ But there is much more he can do,” said MacGillivray. “He can make sure that supervisor has his values, that’s critical, he can make sure he doesn’t inadvertedly undermine a good supervisor when talking to the staff, that he supports the supervisor.”

Enform is working on putting together an executive leadership team to steer the work of the technical committee on safety culture. It will include representatives from all six sectors of the industry that Enform represents — geophysical contractors, oilwell drilling contractors, petroleum producers, pipeline companies, explorers and producers and petroleum services.

Having this executive-level commitment is necessary because it drives the whole industry’s approach to safety culture, said MacGillivray.

“You need that executive perspective. (For example) a COO for an oil producer would have a broad sense of how their system works, how their operations work and how safety fits into that, so they would have a good handle on practical issues that are facing their safety culture in their companies and sectors,” he said. “That’s critical to having successful efforts.”

Photo: Cameron MacGillivray speaking at the 2015 Petroleum Safety Conference. Courtesy of Enform.

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