By Ramabhadran Srinivasan Global Leader, Process Safety and Risk Management Offerings, DuPont Sustainable Solutions From Piper Alpha in 1988 to Deepwater Horizon in 2010, it is evident that the magnitude and intensity of incidents in the oil and gas upstream sector can be enormous. While the oil and gas industry continues to make significant strides in adopting new techniques and technologies, these incidents continue to raise doubts about the industry’s capability for preventing such incidents and about the adequacy of safety measures. In the “Report to the President, National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling,” the immediate causes of the Macondo well blowout were traced to a series of identifiable mistakes that reveal such systematic failures in risk management that they place in doubt the safety culture of the entire oil and gas industry. In Piper Alpha, as well, the causes can be attributed to a series of identifiable mistakes. An analysis of these and other major incidents in the oil and gas industry indicates a culture that tolerates serious and longstanding deviations from good safety practice, resulting in the “normalizing of deviations.” Analysis of catastrophic incidents often indicates that there may have been many missed warning signals prior to the incident. Missing these warning signals can be attributed to several factors, including the unique nature of the oil and gas industry, lower standards of operating discipline, and last and most importantly, the lack of continued focus and commitment of leadership. Unique Challenges The offshore drilling and energy production sector faces challenges unique to the industry -- primarily, the complex interrelationship among contractor and sub-contractor companies with different sets of specialized skills and offerings. This complex contractual relationship, coupled with a high-hazard environment demands a safety culture that encompasses every element of the extended drilling services and operating industry. The nature of the industry and expertise of particular businesses have created an environment in which the various contracting companies work in silos. While each contracting company may be good in their own field, the interrelationships, planning and coordination necessary for operations makes creating industry-wide standards a massive challenge. Since the specialized contracting services are necessary and will be an integral part of the oil and gas drilling industry, there is a need to enhance the process of contractor management systems and ensure that definitions of roles, responsibilities and authority are water tight. DuPont adopts the RACI (Responsibility, Accountability, Communication and Information) matrix as a method to clearly define roles and responsibilities among the various parties. The working environment of the oil and gas industry is akin to a turnaround environment -- at least until production starts -- which provides an opportunity to adopt some of the best practices from turnarounds adopted by other industries. Operating Discipline Consider the routine requirement of deciding on the location of onshore rigs. There are certain minimum distance requirements for locating residential quarters from the drilling rig and requirements for location of the mudpit and the flare stack. Meeting these requirements can be challenging in certain locations because of nearby residential areas or sensitive ecosystems. If the rig manager is able to get away with some deviations and there are no resulting major incidents or issues, then this practice tends to proliferate very quickly and becomes “normal.” This is a classic case of normalizing deviations. That said, there are a few factors that must be considered in the above case. Generally, in the oil and gas industry, management decisions are not necessarily influenced by a lack of willingness to spend money. Secondly, the case demonstrates the need for continuously searching for technical and technological solutions. These technical and technological solutions require consistent dedication and application by cultivating a safety culture and the right behavior on a day-to-day basis by all levels of the organization. DuPont has defined this as “operating discipline.” Role of leadership The factors we have discussed, such as normalization of deviations and lack of operating discipline, are evidence of a dysfunctional process safety culture. It may be a cliché, but process safety management really does start at the top -- and the stronger it is, the better the response and performance of the rest of the organization. The most important ingredient is the leadership team, including their personal behavior. Leaders, managers and supervisors must be visible in applying the agreed upon safety principles in decision making. Employees must believe that management places a high value on safety and is willing to live according to safety principles. For a safety effort to succeed, all managers -- even those at the highest levels -- must demonstrate a visible commitment to safety in everything they do. “Modeling” safe behavior is vital to this effort. With modeling, managers personally follow the same rules and procedures that apply to employees. In doing so, they serve as models for employees and demonstrate their respect for safety at the same time. Employees and contractors always look to see how business leaders personally embody their commitment to safety rather than relying on posters that are hung on the walls or procedures that remain on paper. Safety culture can be enhanced by positive reinforcement of superior safety performance. It cannot be overstated that recognition contributes significantly in creating and sustaining a safety culture. Identifying people who are doing things right and rewarding their safe actions is more impactful than punishing employees for doing things wrong. Safety surveys of organizations across the world, regardless of cultures or geographies, always indicate that motivation is an area that needs more time and attention. Creating a strong safety culture helps reduce incidents and keeps employees safe, ultimately creating a more sustainable business. Engaged leadership, the ability to diagnose issues and act to correct them, and the supportive and collaborative nature of an interdependent safety organization spill over into broader organizational effectiveness. Dividends include stronger operational discipline, greater productivity, an improved risk profile and higher employee morale. Copyright notice: Copyright © 2011 E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company. All rights reserved. The DuPont Oval Logo, DuPontTM, The Miracles of ScienceTM and all products denoted with a ® or TM are trademarks or registered trademarks of E. I. du Pont de Nemours and Company or its affiliates.