Sarasota, FL (WorkersCompensation.com) – Oil and gas is one of the most hazardous industries in the world. The fatality rate is seven times higher than that of other industries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In addition to training and education, interacting with these workers in real time is the most effective way to protect them. Recent advances are starting to allow organizations involved with health, safety, and environmental quality (HSEQ) to do that.
“Technology HSE platforms are the wave of the future,” said Joyce Ryel, chairperson of the National Service, Transmission, Exploration & Production Safety (STEPS) Network and VP of HSEQ for Fortis Energy Services. “We have to be able to communicate with our people out there.”
During a recent webinar, Ryel discussed tools to enhance safety for oil and gas workers.
The numbers of deaths in the oil and gas industry has decreased somewhat in recent years. However, there were 25 deaths in 22 separate incidents in 2019, according to the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers. The Bureau of Labor Statistic reported 489 fatalities among workers in the industry between 2013 and 2017.
Oil and gas workers face a number of risks, including:
- Vehicle accidents
- Struck-by/ caught-in/ caught-between
- Explosions and fires
- Confined spaces
- Chemical exposures
- Ergonomic hazards
- High pressure lines and equipment
- Electrical and other hazardous energy
- Machine hazards
Serious burns, head and brain injuries, broken bones, amputations and road injuries are among the most common injuries and/or causes of death faced by oil and gas workers.
Safety in the Field
While many industry leaders execute policies from inside their offices, bringing the safety program directly to oil and gas employees provides more protection. But doing so can be a challenge for some companies.
“We are very spread out; I’m one person and I make each region at least once a month,” Ryel said of Fortis. “But to be there for the guys and with the guys it takes electronic technology.”
The company has partnered with an organization that provides that technology. She says it has made a dramatic difference.
“We saw from 2018 to where we finished in 2021 a 76 percent reduction in our total recordable injury rate (TRIR),” she said. “We also had an 87 percent reduction in our lost time rate.”
The technology allows real time, two-way communication with field employees. It has led to what she said was a complete change in culture.
“To engage employees in the field you have to let them know you care. The way to do that is by listening to them,” Ryel said. “I believe that a key piece in a safety culture is looking at what’s going on at that location, observing it and then also communicating that observation.”
Previously, such information would need to be scanned and sent for review. Now the observations are instantly read by Ryel, the manager and the company president.
“What that does is let the employee know that, yes, you do care what is going on out there and that you are going to take steps to make sure their job is safer, if it’s something that they are communicating to you,” Ryel said. “So you have to have that back and forth information.
Potential safety problems are dealt with quickly because of the real time technology. For example, an employee may have misunderstood what he saw and the communication allows the company to coach him on the spot. An unsafe situation can be remedied quickly, “potentially within the same day or even the same hour or so,” said Deren Boyd, SVP of New Markets for KPA, the company that partnered with Fortis.
Ryel credits the technology of KPA for the reductions in TRIR and lost time rate, saying the real time and communication advantages have changed safety. The reductions have led to fewer injuries and reduced costs.
“Not only that, what we’re seeing is employees in the field like KPA and they use it,” she said. “Within the last six months they are starting to ask, ‘can you do this?’”
Along with the decrease in injuries the technology has also decreased the number of people out for injuries.
“With the reduction in manpower that we had during [the pandemic] we’ve not had to replace the people that I had in the field previously because employees are using that safety tool; they are becoming that safety person. It’s there for them to use,” Ryel said. “So it’s reduced the number of people needed to make my department operate efficiently.”