A decade of safety improvement on the rigs

By Cindy Soderstrom, manager, communications, CAODC

It takes just one to drive change and leave a positive legacy in the world.  And this is true for an industry’s safety culture: it’s an attitude, a culture, and one person has the power to influence it.

In April 2013, the Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC) hosted its 33rd annual Safety Award Banquets in Edmonton, Alberta.  Over 2,700 drillers and rig managers from drilling rigs and service rigs were awarded a 2013 Safety Award.  These individuals were nominated by their employers.  The criteria to be eligible for an award is completing 200 consecutive days of operations without an incident.

Drillers and rig managers are making a difference in the industry’s safety performance.  They are having an impact by reminding crew members to buckle up when driving to and from the rig site and by reminding employees to check in after they leave the job site to travel home.  Rig crews take time to assess hazards before beginning a critical task.  They stop the operation when someone notices an unsafe environment.

These individual acts have contributed to an astonishing difference in the industry’s safety record.  CAODC data shows that 10 years ago, incident frequency as measured by CAODC’s TRIF formula, showed that 10 incidents or more occurred every 100 operating hours.  Today, TRIF has been slashed by more than half.  In fact, the rig industry has cut that rate down to one-third of the 2002 TRIF.

11-1That’s not an anomaly.  That’s what industry has maintained for three years running.

Statistics from WorkSafeBC show that incident rates on rigs operating in B.C. are well below the combined average from all industries.  WorkSafeBC measures how many time-loss claims are made for every 100 years of employment.  Data between 2007 and 2011 shows that when time-loss claims are averaged from all B.C. industries, the injury rate works out to be between two and three.  Data for only the drilling industry from that same time period puts time-loss claims between 0.4 and 0.8. Data for service rigs and other oilfield services shows time-loss claims between 0.9 and 1.3.

Regulators have noticed this industry’s commitment to jobsite safety, especially those involved in occupational health and safety.  Bob Ross, for example, used to work for Saskatchewan OH&S.  Today he’s the managing director of Enform Saskatchewan, but some time before that, he earned a paycheque from the rigs, working as an assistant driller in the 1970’s.  He knows – firsthand – what the benchmark was for rig safety back then.  Today, he applauds the rigs’ commitment to an ever-improving safety record.  His comment regarding today’s stance toward safe work? “When this industry committed to changing their mindset on that matter, it made the change quickly.  That’s the beauty of this industry: the speed it likes to work at and its commitment to improve.”

The safety culture in this industry has benefits beyond the rig site.  A little known story from 2010: a service rig crew helped save the life of a man in a vehicle accident.  The rig crew was travelling to a job.  They witnessed the accident: a truck with a trailer skidded sideways across the highway and then rolled — multiple times — into a ditch.  The driver was thrown from the vehicle.

11-2The crew quickly mobilized, putting into action their first aid training and assuming the team roles they would adopt for an emergency drill.  They not only stabilized the injured driver; they managed the scene, gathering data from other witnesses and contacting emergency services.

Their experience in man-down drills meant they knew how to deal with the emergency.  When asked about their quick response, they credited the repetition of those drills for giving them the confidence to act.

The rig industry is moving in the right direction.  Focus is still required.  WorkSafeBC statistics further note that the disabling rate of injuries is higher for the oil and gas industry than in other industries. Training standards have been introduced through the rig technician trade and the Service Rig Competency Program, and innovation and technology have helped to engineer out hazards.

But most of all, our improved safety record rests on the influence of employees who demonstrate again and again a commitment to safety.

The improved safety record has come from the influence of crew supervisors.  This influence has made rigs safer and companies more competitive.  It has helped this industry to be the example of what a change in mindset can accomplish.

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