Safety Tips from the Oilfield

Photo by Greg Huszar

Photo by Greg Huszar

Bob Ross is the Manager of ENFORM Saskatchewan, the safety association for the upstream oil and gas industry. Ross’s job has two challenges: keeping workers safe in the field and convincing them to maintain safe practices at home. A positive safety culture starts with changing the mindset of the individual. “Why would you do something safe at work and then not do it home?” Ross asks. “You wouldn’t drive a bobcat or lift truck at work impaired, so why is it okay to go to that snowmobile rally and drink and drive?”

Workplaces have policies and supervisors enforcing safe practices, but at home, when no one is watching, if an individual doesn’t have a safety-first mindset, they will continue to take risks. His goal is that people would take some of the safety practices they learn at work and apply them at home. “Slip trips and falls can happen everywhere. Prevention is the key. Gravity is the same everywhere. An injury at home can impact your working career permanently as well.”

Kevin Milligan, a Safety Advisor at the Saskatchewan Motor Safety Association, agrees. “In the mining industry, fleet vehicles are equipped with GPS policing. If someone speeds, the company receives a message so the risky behaviour can be addressed. It reduces risks and it reduces costs.” In personal vehicles, a driver is left to his or her own discretion.

At work, employees are also required to check in and out when travelling, and the GPS can pinpoint where workers are if they fail to check in at agreed-upon times. Milligan uses the check-in procedure with his own daughters and points out this could be a life or death safety practice.

Ross and Milligan both say that because the resource industries are high risk, they have to be well ahead of other sectors in safety policy and day-to-day safety practices. There is great awareness that safety on site is necessary for production:  incidents cause shut down.

The safety culture of the oil and gas industry, with multiple contractors on every site, is one of shared responsibility. The shared responsibility for safety was established early in Saskatchewan and set in place through specific legislation and regulations. Ross explains, “The risk of one is the risk of many.”

“Saskatchewan developed regulations (section 412) for the Oil and Gas sector concerning on site competent Supervisors, before a job began, the group of employers, contractors had to sit down and there had to be a written agreement signed by all parties for who would be the supervisor on site. The group may have been business competitors, but on the job, they worked together to set up accountability and share responsibility.” This early legislation has evolved into today’s Prime Contractor legislation today.

Companies and contractors openly share injury prevention ideas with each other. “There’s no copyright on good, safe work ideas. It’s a condition of employment in the field to be safe,” explains Ross.

“There’s a whole different safety culture and mindset in the oil patch. You don’t step on a site without PPE and training certificates. The ‘right to refuse’ (unusually dangerous work) is not just a ‘right’ it’s a duty on the site. It’s a responsibility of the worker. If you don’t have the training or knowledge to do the job safely then refuse it’s not embarrassing or intimidating to ask for instruction or assistance. Your employment is conditional on your understanding and ability to do your job correctly. It’s your job to be safe.”

Ross commends the oil industry for its high standard and demand for training, PPE and mentorship for new hires.  He knows these standards prevent injuries and fatalities: “Our future depends on young workers growing up with a positive safety mindset.”

Practical tips from the resource field:

  1. Job Safety Observations: Performing Job Safety Observations with work crews or just a single worker throughout the day. As a supervisor, going to where the work is during the day, and speaking with the worker provides instant feedback on potential hazards missed. It also allows the supervisor a chance to give positive feedback on a job well done. This builds on and reinforces the safety culture.
  2. Photo by Greg Huszar

    Toolbox Talks: Hold daily toolbox talks before work commences to focus on communication and safety. This reinforces the commitment to safety, but also gives supervisors a chance to engage workers face to face. Daily contact can help identify potential health or even mental health issues. Some mining and manufacturing companies use this time to promote pre-work stretching to prevent ergonomic injuries.

  3. Job Hazard Analysis (JHA): Conducting a JHA prior to tasks, when a change to equipment or an additional task happens is mandatory in oil and gas and mining sectors. When a JHA is completed, the supervisor or workers will write Safe Work Procedures to mitigate any hazards identified. Supervisors sign off on the Safe Work Procedures that go with the JHAs throughout the day. This process keeps safety present in every task, on a continuous basis.
  4. Equipment inspection: Most companies only require daily inspections of powered mobile equipment or lifting equipment, but many highly regulated industries like oil and gas or the mining industry require pre-use inspections, which obviously increases checks, but also reduces the risks of something being missed by multiple operations or operators.
  5. Training: The resource sector requires more training than almost any other. New workers cannot enter a site without taking and showing their certification for WHMIS, H2S, enclosed space training and more. In some cases, visitors to the worksites have to be certified before visiting.
  6. Mentoring: New workers on an oil site receive a “green hand” sticker for their hard hats. The sticker indicates to other workers to take extra caution and time with them. New workers are partnered with experienced front-line supervisors for up to three weeks of orientation and training.