Oil Offshore and Gas Installations: Safety Culture
The offshore oil and gas installation industry is one of the most notoriously hazardous due to its extreme and remote conditions. Both acute and chronic health and safety issues plague offshore oil and gas industry workers. However, offshore oil and gas installation sites are not more hazardous than other natural resources-related occupational sectors; moreover, the occupational safety in the offshore oil and gas industries are on par with other industries (U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2011). The same is true for offshore oil and gas installation sites in other countries like the United Kingdom, where it was found that "the sector demonstrates a relatively low lost time injury rate and has, for many years, outperformed a number of comparatively lower hazard industrial sectors (Oil & Gas UK, 2012).
The hazards of working in offshore oil and gas installations are well-known and controlled for by a culture of safety and safety management practices. Although these practices and managerial tactics do need improvement, the industry does have specific training requirements, hazard reporting methods, and managerial protocols in place. The offshore oil and gas industry is a high-profile one, and disasters like those that occurred at Deepwater Horizon are actually rare but are blown out of proportion somewhat by the mainstream media.
Types of Hazards and Safety Concerns
Offshore oil and gas installation personnel at all levels and positions are "working in a remote and hostile environment," (Gardner, 2003). The hazards and safety concerns that pertain to the offshore oil and gas industry are similar to those in any other natural resources extraction industry. The occupational hazards can all be classified into major categories such as ergonomic hazards; chemical hazards; psychosocial hazards; and physical hazards (Gardner, 2003). Ergonomic hazards are those related to falls, heavy lifting, and injuries that can be prevented by changing procedure or the workplace environment. Chemical hazards are relatively common among offshore oil and gas workers, because of the regular exposure to toxic and possibly carcinogenic agents used in the oil and gas extraction process as well as in the operation of related machinery (Gardner, 2003). Psychosocial hazards in the oil and gas installation industry are common because the offshore industry entails physical isolation from family and all civilization save for coworkers; this can create significant workplace stress. Similarly work loads are a concern in the offshore oil and gas industry due to the contractual nature of the work. The physical hazards relevant to the offshore oil and gas industry worker are related mainly to noise, vibrations, temperature extremes, and radiation.
Training requirements for offshore oil and gas installations workers vary from location to location, site to site, company to company, and country to country. However, within the United States there are some industry standards that remain constant regardless of the site. The American Petroleum Institute maintains several concurrent training programs that are parts of their requirement for human resources development. Other trade associations representing the oil and gas extraction industries including the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC), Independent Petroleum Association of America (IPAA), and Offshore Operators Committee (OOC) also have training standards and programs. All of these organizations also offer ongoing workshops, seminars, and conferences so that industry workers and managers can stay abreast of new safety standards, and respond to new safety issues as they continually emerge in this growing and changing sector.
The American Petroleum Institute offers the Monogram Program, which trains personnel in identifying equipment and monitoring its safety. The American Petroleum Institute also sponsors the Worksafe Program, which is specifically targeted at managers who need to train new personnel and contractors, with the ultimate goal of meeting safety standards. Safety issues related to offshore oil and gas installation personal differ considerably from onshore ones, which is why training programs are site-specific (American Petroleum Institute, 2013). Furthermore, the American Petroleum Institute issues the Trainer Provider Certification Program, which ensures that schools receive adequate accreditation when industry standards are being taught properly. This way, private and independent organizations can be responsible for training personnel, who can then apply that training to a job in the offshore oil and gas installations sector. Specialists in wells and rigs receive specialized training. Deepwater well issues are also covered in specific training programs run by the American Petroleum Institute, and are in keeping with the Deepwater Well Design Considerations document and the Well Construction Interface Document guidelines (American Petroleum Institute, 2013).
In Canada, training programs are created and maintained by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. The organization offers Basic Survival Training (BST), which teaches workers about extreme situations and emergencies that might arise in the offshore setting. A special course in Hydrogen Sulphide (H2S) awareness is also part of the mandatory training for offshore oil and natural gas employees in Canada (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, n.d.). The Workplace Hazardous Materials Information System addresses the disposal of hazardous waste and materials from the offshore oil and gas sites, and there are regulation-related courses too to teach employees as well as managers about the latest regulatory climate (Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers, n.d.).
Hazard Reporting Methods
The Deepwater Horizon incident revealed the need for improved hazard reporting methods, as well as improved responses to hazards. Hazard reporting methods include those outlined in the American Petroleum Institute Guide to Reporting Process Safety Events (n..d), an industry standard. The document outlines the definition of a reportable process safety event, for various types of hazards. These can be non-toxic and non-flammable as well as toxic and flammable. Ideally, staff are trained to report any and all hazards that are observed in the workplace environment. However, Mearns, Whitaker, & Flin (2003) found that incident and hazard reporting is not as robust as it could be in the offshore oil and gas installation sector, even when it was found that reporting incidents leads to improved safety reports. Mearns & Flin (1995) attribute the differences in willingness to report and actual reporting data to factors like risk tolerance, organizational culture, risk assessment, and attitudes toward safety. Organizational culture has a tremendous impact on the types of reporting methods used by the organization, but even more of an influence on whether personnel are encouraged or discouraged from taking a cautious approach to reporting hazards detected in the workplace.
Management Issues: Responding to Hazards
O'Dea & Flin (2001) found that management may not always uphold a culture of safety, leading to disasters like Deepwater Horizon. "It seems that although managers are aware of best practice in safety leadership, they do not always act in ways consistent with this," the researchers note (O'Dea & Flin, 2001). Managers also complain that workers do not accept responsibility for safety, without themselves taking responsibility for creating a culture of safety in the offshore oil and gas setting (O'Dea & Flin, 2001). Workers are more likely to take responsibility for reporting and observing safety hazards when the organizational culture supports safety and minimizing risk. The organizational culture must change to reflect industry standards and commitments like those of the American Petroleum Institute to zero incidents. O'Dea & Flin (2001) found that managers' level of experience was not related to the employee willingness to embrace a culture of safety. Rather, the creation of a culture of safety is related to worker willingness to accept responsibility for risk reduction or risk elimination (O'Dea & Flin, 2001).
Empirical research shows that organizational factors including management's commitment to safety, job satisfaction, safety vs. production emphasis, and job situation have the greatest direct effect on worker perception of risk, on worker satisfaction with safety measures, and on perception of hazards (Flin, Mearns, Fleming, & Gordon 1996). Therefore, the ways that management responds to reported hazards is the key to eliminating hazards in the future. The key is to get employees and managers to work together. Management must create a climate of safety that does not tolerate high risk, and which does encourage hazard reporting. In turn, employees must take responsibility for the safety of themselves and their crew by reporting all hazards according to protocol. Finally, the official hazard reports must be taken seriously and responded to in a timely manner. The Deepwater Horizon incident could have been a tragedy averted had all of these steps been followed.
Conclusion and Future Challenges
In a representative sample of over six hundred workers on offshore oil and natural gas installations, the majority of participants claimed that they felt safe living and working offshore (Flin, Mearns, Fleming & Gordon 1996). This perceived safety should not become complacency with regards to hazard reporting. There are very real threats to health and safety in the offshore oil and natural gas installation settings. Those hazards are not always as serious as explosions and other high-profile events. Rather hazards are often daily and smaller in nature, and many can lead to chronic ill health such as exposure to hazardous or cancer-causing materials on the job. Therefore, it is important to…