It’s no secret that oil and gas production is a risky line of work. Between 2006 and 2014, 88 workers lost their lives in Alberta’s oilfield. And with an economy that’s expected to grow, there’s a chance that the increased activity in the sector will lead to an uptick in the rate of fatal injuries.
Keeping oil and gas workers safe requires proactive measures. It’s not enough to just track injury statistics; there is a variety of indicators that can help you identify issues and trends and shape an effective safety policy. Monitoring metrics should be part of any health and safety program, but it’s important to know which ones are critical and worth tracking.
Hazards in Oil and Gas Production
Oil and gas work carries inherent risks, and those who work in the production of it must be aware of and understand the hazards they face.
When most people think of the risks oil and gas workers face, they probably picture fires, explosions, and exposure to hazardous gases. They might be surprised to learn that approximately one third of oilfield workers die on the job from automobile accidents.
It makes sense when you stop and think about it. Extraction and production areas are usually in fairly remote locations. Workers and equipment have to travel long distances along highways to get to the worksite. And when they do arrive safely, there are still vehicles moving around the site itself.
Fire and Explosion
Working with flammable gases means that fire and explosion are real threats to worker safety.
Everything from well gases and vapors to hydrogen sulfide can be present in the work environment as a result of wells, trucks, production equipment, and surface equipment like tanks. And it doesn’t always take much to ignite them. Sources of ignition include static and electrical energy sources, open flames, lightning, and welding tools.
Hazardous chemicals are common in oil and gas production. Employers need to conduct thorough hazard analyses and implement written procedures for adequately dealing with identified chemical hazards. Review these operating procedures annually to certify that they are current and accurate.
Various Oil and Gas Site Hazards
Other potential hazards that impact workplace safety include:
Monitoring the Metrics
Monitoring workplace-specific metrics not only identifies existing and past issues, but can also help you predict (and proactively address) future ones. Health and safety metrics are divided into three groups: lagging, current, and leading.
(Learn more about Leveraging Leading Indicators to Drive Safety.)
Metrics Worth Tracking
Tracking these metrics can help you understand the areas you’re doing well in and those that require more attention. While these indicator examples are certainly not exhaustive, they should give you an idea of where to start.
Illness and Injury
Injuries in this industry can range from fairly minor incidents like small abrasions to large, serious injuries caused by vehicle accidents, chemical spills, and explosions.
Key safety metrics for injuries include incident rates and missed days due to injury. While monitoring these metrics can prove helpful for recognizing trends and ensuring that the numbers improve (get lower) each year, it’s important to understand that they aren’t the be all and end all for worker safety.
Equally significant to employers is the number of worker reports regarding potential safety hazards. Companies must strive to be proactive in preventing injuries, and monitoring hazard reporting metrics is a great way to confirm that workers are comfortable prioritizing their own health and safety over production goals.
This one is often related to injury rates, but it’s a metric that deserves its own category. By monitoring which equipment malfunctions and how often, you can focus your attention and resources on addressing this specific risk.
Employee Training and Engagement
One of the best ways to prevent injuries and to ensure the safety of workers is to stay on top of training responsibilities. Monitor who is due for refresher training and who is working with expired credentials. If you offer optional training programs, keep track of how many employees opt in and the outcome of the sessions (i.e. is the knowledge being applied?). Gauge employee attitudes and encourage them to become involved in the safety program by submitting their own suggestions. Employees who feel engaged tend to be more invested in workplace safety than those who do not.
Audits and Inspections
Audits and inspections can reveal important details about trouble spots, and organizing your inspection data by location can help you identify work areas that are most prone to deficiencies – and pose the highest risk to your workers.
Analyze hazard reviews and regularly revisit your audit program to ensure the safety performance indicators are relevant.
Monitoring metrics isn’t about haphazardly counting incident reports or recording inspection data – it’s about using particular indicators to assess how safe your workplace is and make informed decisions about how to shape your safety program going forward.
No one set of metrics works for every business. Identify your company’s needs and choose a combination of simple, easy-to-understand lagging, current, and leading indicators. Talk to your employees about the safety procedures and get them engaged – an engaged workforce is a safe workforce.
By drawing on the value of performance metrics, you can keep up with ever-changing safety standards while protecting your employees and business.
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