Safety culture a practical approach

Thom Koning
Thursday, April 8, 2010

Since Heerema Marine Contractors introduced its Incident & Injury Free initiative in 2008 for both its own personnel (offshore and onshore) and the subcontractors they work with, reactions from clients and contractors have been very positive and the results have been impressive, reports HMC’s Thom Koning.

Oil companies have become ever more aware of safety after the Piper Alpha tragedy in July 1988, when an explosion and resulting fire destroyed the North Sea platform, killing 167 men (OE July & August 1988). Since then companies have been exploring different ways to increase safety awareness among their workforce.

The last decade has also seen the number of subcontractors working on the premises of oil companies increase quite dramatically. While statistics show improving safety results among their own workforce, oil companies have seen no change or even an increase in total recordable incidents among the subcontracted workforce.

Safety awareness
Over the years various safety awareness programs have been developed and introduced by companies. All claim to minimize danger on the shop floor. Some safety awareness programs work, others do not. Their effectiveness always depends on their reception by the workforce. As the workforce is not homogenous, cultural differences may also affect the results.

In the 1990s, Heerema Marine Contractors (HMC) identified the need to comply with quality standards. Procedures and instructions were developed as the first step aimed at informing the workforce about the do’s and don’ts on the shop floor. Entering the 21st century, HMC recognized the need for boosting safety awareness. A culture survey was carried out, which resulted in recommendations on improvements. Further improvements were made but, as can be seen in the statistical overview of incidents, they failed to produce the hoped-for results.

Incident and injury free
At this time we executed a project for Chevron. For this project we were obliged, along with other subcontractors, to follow the IIF (Incident & Injury Free) program as taken up by Chevron. IIF represents the belief in and commitment to maintaining an incident and injury free workplace at all times. It represents the change of mindset we aim to achieve. Feedback from the workforce showed that this program had really improved the workplace and working conditions. For this reason we decided to adopt the program for the entire company as our own statistics were flattening and we still experienced incidents.

The IIF program allows for the human factor in safety and creates a positive safety culture. It did not replace other behaviour-based programs already running at the company. It aims at making these programs more effective, including by stimulating improvement in personal attitude towards safety. As such, it should not be seen as a project with a deadline but rather as a journey.

‘Safety is a principle’, ‘safety is a value’, ‘safety ethic’: you come across these phrases a lot in IIF. But what do they actually mean? They mean that safety is a core principle which shapes everyday behaviour, both at work and at home. It is a principle which governs our personal behaviour alongside other principles, such as integrity, for example.

In the workplace, ‘safety is a principle’ means that safety is not a number one priority that comes before production or time schedule. This is because safety is not a priority but a principle that can never be compromised.

Safety principle
In order to promote the issue of safety as a principle one needs to convince the workforce that it will affect their everyday lives much more than just another program. This cannot be achieved overnight, or even within a year. This is a long journey, on which some people will want to come along while others will only join at a later stage, as they are not yet sure about the destination.

The familiar metaphor of a giant tanker changing course might be appropriate here to demonstrate the difficulty of changing behaviour. IIF sometimes gives the impression of being too soft, like the phrase ‘Caring for one another and demonstrating that care on a daily basis’, or ‘Choosing to follow the safety rules and procedures rather than following them because you have to’. HMC is still a contractor. This is no place for softies, as they might say in the offshore industry.

But if you look just a bit further down the line the importance of the phrases ‘Intolerance of any level of injury, even near misses’ and ‘All workers going home safely every time’ hits home. Ever heard of anybody who would like to come home on crutches, in a wheelchair or, even worse, in a coffin? Think of the families they and you are responsible for and you will know what it means when we ask people to ‘Speak up and express their concern when they see something unsafe’.

IIF is about taking responsibility for your own safety and the safety of those sharing your workplace. It is also about being proactive and asking questions such as: ‘What is the worst thing that can happen to me on this job or task and how can I eliminate this danger?’ And it’s about the willingness to investigate each and every incident and learn from them.

The initial IIF implementation process began in October 2007 and lasted six months. It involved training, instructing and coaching all our employees, on all our vessels and in all our offices, all over the world.

The strength of IIF is that people within the company are trained to spread the message. Colleagues convinced of the advantages of the Incident & Injury Free work environment tell people why it is good to be safe. They all have their personal story to tell. Some had a car accident, others experienced an unsafe situation at work and all are eager to tell others that, if they could go back in time, they would have prevented the incident.

Creating an Incident & Injury Free environment has a lot to do with your mindset and being conscious of IIF on every shift, every day, on board, at the office, or at home. It starts with exercising leadership and taking the role of supervisor seriously by taking care of your workforce and guiding them safely through their tasks irrespective of your position within the company.

With IIF we know all our employees have a strong tool which they can use when safety is at stake. We adopted the STOP policy, the right and duty to stop the work if dangers or risks are imminent. In addition, we identified the positive use of the last-minute risk assessment and which is now taught to supervisors as part of their supervisor skills training in the second stage of the IIF implementation.

More to be done
It is clear there is yet more to be done to have the entire workforce committed, onshore and offshore. But, to quote the above-mentioned example, the tanker is changing course, albeit slowly. It will take time to adjust the company’s safety culture.

However, we do see encouraging results in that more and more initiatives pop up all over the company without a direct push from the safety department. This is precisely what we were aiming to achieve: for people to take responsibility of their own safety and that of those around them. We are not there yet, there is still more to do, but we can see the beginnings of a mindset change with relation to safety. Safety as a principle is in everybody’s interest. After all, we all want to arrive home safely after work, and stay safe. OE

Categories: Europe Safety & Security

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