3 Insights and an Update: Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention in the Oil and Gas Fields

3 Insights and an Update: Serious Injury and Fatality Prevention in the Oil and Gas Fields

Several years ago, BST’s groundbreaking research into serious injury and fatality (SIF) prevention was introduced to the safety community through white papers, public seminars, industry talks, webinars, and other outlets. With the help of seven global companies sharing their data and expertise—including two of the supermajors—we validated our belief that while the Heinrich safety pyramid was a descriptive model (i.e., in each organization, there is a proportionate ratio between first aid cases, medical cases, restricted duty/lost-time cases, and fatalities.), it failed the test as a predictive model (i.e., work to reduce your first aids and recordables and you will not necessarily see a proportionate decline in your LTI’s and fatalities).

Had Heinrich passed the test as a predictive model, the oil and gas industry’s steadily declining OSHA recordable rates would be driving an accompanying decline in fatality rates. Clearly, based on the Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) data, and the data provided by our research partner companies, this proportionate decline was not occurring. Behavioral Science Technology (BST) and our research partners came to the conclusion that only a portion of recordable injuries have the potential to become serious or fatal, so managing your safety intervention systems with a “one size fits all” mentality will not maximize their impact against SIF’s. SIF prevention requires identifying those exposures that have SIF potential; establishing a SIF potential metric; diving deeply into their root causes and precursors; and aligning your safety management systems to intervene accordingly.

Fast forward to today. We’ve worked on attacking SIF’s with over 40 clients in high-exposure industries (including improving overall oil and gas safety) since this research was originally published. We’ve also talked with dozens more that have been addressing this issue on their own, using a variety of methods. Some additional insights have emerged:

  • Addressing SIF’s doesn’t mean ignoring everything else. While it may be tempting to address the SIF prevention concept with an all-encompassing blitzkrieg of safety focus and resources, we cannot ignore reducing exposure to less serious injuries. Not only do non-SIF potential incidents drive the large majority (in most organizations, 70-80%) of your recordable injury rate, they also serve as the foundation of your obligation to provide a safer workplace.
  • The SIF prevention concept can really engage your line management…but be careful. We’ve seen numerous line management teams grab onto this concept with a newly engaged, more supportive approach toward their involvement in safety. We’ve seen old line, field supervisors change their behavior from going through the motions in safety investigations, to being actively engaged in root cause analysis and barrier removal higher up in the hierarchy of controls, because they see a link between their efforts and SIF’s. That’s undoubtedly good news. BUT be careful to not allow this to become the sole focus. Don’t focus your line management so exclusively on SIF’s that they ignore or reassign their daily safety responsibilities and send unintended messages around your overall commitment to a zero-harm environment.
  • The SIF potential exposure metric isn’t a hammer. We’ve seen a number of organizations struggle with using a SIF potential metric for a variety of reasons. Several companies have avoided even communicating its existence outside of EHS for fear that line management would think they were backing off on a zero-harm goal. A few companies have gone to the other side of the spectrum and chosen to include the metric in safety performance bonus plans for managers, thus driving ongoing, time-wasting arguments in the field as to whether or not a given recordable incident truly had SIF potential and driving SIF potential near miss reporting underground.

The law of unintended consequences applies in spades here. SIF potential exposure metric improvement is not the ultimate goal of SIF prevention. The game is really mitigating SIF precursors, reducing exposure to these types of incidents, and reducing SIF outcomes. The SIF potential exposure metric is one way to keep score, but so are other metrics, such as your investigation/remediation results, and whether your organization is truly moving upstream in the hierarchy of controls to address your SIF precursors.

The gas and oil fields may never be made totally free of SIF potential, but settling for anything less as a goal is unacceptable. Understanding your company’s true exposure to SIF’s, and then addressing the underlying causes with vigor and commitment are your primary paths to get there.

To learn more about our research on SIFs, download the white paper New Findings on Serious Injuries and Fatalities.

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Tuesday, 14 July 2020