How Are You Preparing For The Oil Industry Rebound?

The much-promised rebound in oil prices is starting to look real.  Brent Crude has been over $50 all month.  Predictions of $60 by Christmas are looking like more than wishful thinking. Oil companies are entering their budget cycles with some level of optimism for the first time since 2014.

So are you ready to get back to work?   For many oil and gas service companies, the honest answer may be no.  We may not have the people in the right places to do the work.   By one estimate, the American oil and gas industry shed more than 220,000 jobs, but the true number may be much higher when you count trucking, construction and other providers who may not show up under the “oil and gas” category.   That is a lot of positions to fill. We’ve been to this rodeo before and we know that, when business ramps up, we see the big increase in injuries, accidents and claims.

So what should a company be doing now to take advantage of the coming upturn?  Here is a short checklist:

____ Safety Plan Review:  There have been some changes to regulations since the downturn and some new customer requirements.   More than that, operators are likely to want your safety program to follow a SEMS or other safety management format.   In most cases, I find companies already have the safety management elements; they just need to be revised and reformatted, but it can mean the difference between getting and losing a job.

____ Pre-employment and Post-Offer Testing:  Drug and alcohol testing is a must.   Depending on the job, compliance testing (audio, respiratory fit tests, etc.) may be required.  Physicals and physical assessments should be a part of your program.   Making sure new people can perform job functions is critical when there are so many new hires.  If you don’t budget for testing and have an organized process for onboarding, you risk having injury costs eat up any profits from the new work.

_____ Injury Case Management: Honestly, this hasn’t been much of a problem during the downturn.  Less work.  Fewer injuries.  More time for safety managers to stay on top of injuries.   That all changes when it gets busy.   One of the secrets of successful safety programs is that they focus on case management to keep unwarranted recordables down, help workers get well and back on the job more quickly and minimize workers comp costs.   This is the time to line up a provider who can help support case management so you can focus on preventing accidents.

____ Job Descriptions and Skills Assessments:   This may be a head-scratcher, but if you don’t have accurate job descriptions, how do you know what new hires will do?  And if you don’t have a methodology to assess workers on the particular skills that make up the job descriptions, how do you know whether you have the right people doing the jobs?   Sure, every company has a number of in-house subject matter experts who know every job inside and out. However, those people are worth their weight in gold and they won’t have time to look over every new employee’s shoulder.

_____ Operating Procedures: See above.   Too many companies rely on head knowledge, not written knowledge.  The most experienced people will be too busy to share everything they know.  You also run the risk that they will be hired away just when you need them most.  Operators and government inspectors have already said many service company SOPs are inadequate.   It only gets worse when a lot of new people head out into the field.   Now is the time to make sure procedures are correct and can guide a new employee in the job.

_____ Training:  Review your introductory training.    Does it meet your needs?   How will you make sure every new employee is ready when things get busy.    What about supervisory training?   Supervisors and mid-managers are the most important part of your workforce when new jobs start up.  They need to be ready to lead their crews.

That is a short list.  There are many other things that companies need to have ready when things pick up.  However, we need to remember that we call them “service companies” for a reason.  Service is delivered by people and having the right people ready to do the job is the most important investment you can make when business returns.

Lifeline Strategies has expertise in each of these areas.  If you want to be ready to take advantage of the upswing in the oil and gas cycle, let’s talk.   We can help develop a plan of action or provide you with solutions for any of the challenges listed above.  Contact us at info@lifelinestrategies.com or call at (985) 789-0577.

Oil and Gas Contractors – Navigating The OSHA Minefield

The oil and gas industry relies heavily on contractors and consultants.    For example, by some estimates only about 10 percent of the workers who go offshore actually work for an oil and gas company.  One popular approach is for skilled contractors to work under a professional employer organization, an umbrella company that handles their HR and payroll needs.    The arrangement offers flexibility to the professionals involved and the companies that  contract with them.

However, one consideration is how safety is managed under these arrangements.    OSHA has been very public in the last six months about stressing the responsibilities of host companies to make sure temporary or leased workers are protected from hazards .   OSHA has a special website where it explains those responsibilities.  Significantly, it also has news releases about companies cited for putting temporary workers at risk and even a banner that flashes the headlines about violators.   The message could not be more obvious – companies that get caught not following OSHA’s lead on protecting temporary workers are likely to see their names in the headlines. (see article on Shame Game here).

Companies that hire temporary workers, contractors and consultants, as well as staffing agencies or professional employer organizations, need to understand OSHA’s directives and follow them.    There is a good background analysis on the OSHA positions written by Jeffry Carter, RMS Regulatory Services, and John D. Surma, Adams & Reese.  It is worth a read.

 

 

British Raise Bar On Oil & Gas Helicopter Safety – Will It Impact The U.S.?

The UK Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has announced a series of safety measures for offshore oil and gas-related helicopter flights at British North Sea facilities.   This comes after a full review of safety that was promoted by a scottish accident last august that killed four.   The measures include a number of permanent and temporary requirements.  Some could dramatically change the way offshore flights are handled.

Permanent:

  •  Prohibiting helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions, so that the chance of a ditched helicopter capsizing is reduced and a rescue can be safely undertaken
  • Requiring all passengers to have better emergency breathing equipment to increase underwater survival time unless the helicopter is equipped with side floats
  • Over time, the CAA expects helicopter companies to make improvements to helicopters and survival equipment including:

• Fitting side floats
• Implementing automatic flotation equipment
• Adding hand holds next to push out windows
• Improvements to life rafts and lifejackets

  • The CAA will begin approving helidecks.

Temporary:

  • Pending further safety improvements to helicopters, passengers will only be able to fly if they are seated next to an emergency window exit to make it easier to get out of a helicopter in an emergency (unless helicopters are fitted with extra flotation devices or passengers are provided with better emergency breathing systems).

Will these recommendations make their way into U.S. regulations on helicopters?   Only time will tell, but there is one part that could most definitely affect U.S. offshore oil and gas.   The CAA wants the Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation (OPITO) to enhance the quality and frequency of helicopter training given to oilfield workers.   That may include:

  • training workers to escape from a small window, rather than the standard size used now.
  • seeking more input from training providers in developing standards.

Significantly, the CAA says OPITO should enhance training frequency, but it does not recommend specific refresher durations.

The CAA expects OPITO to act by the fourth quarter of this year.   This could impact U.S. operations because many HUET courses taught in the U.S. follow OPITO standards.  So a change overseas is likely to change the way U.S. providers teach OPITO courses.  Over time it could also change the way non-OPITO HUET is taught because of the way some oil companies will require a certain certification 0r the equivalent.    In the past, those sorts of equivalency requirements have resulted in other providers increasing their standards as well.

 

Dropped Objects – Persistent, Deadly Problem In Oil And Gas

So here is a video every oil and gas worker needs to see.  Just a watermelon, a hardhat and a heavy object dropped from a height.  

It is a slightly funny, but very effective way to get across the danger that every oilfield worker faces if personnel  aren’t focused on preventing dropped object incidents.

dropped-objects-poster-1
An awareness poster from Helix

Drops are one of the most difficult safety issues to correct because it takes a large dose of awareness and constant reminders to reduce the incidence.   According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the number of workplace fatalities involving personnel being struck by objects or equipment increased by 7 percent from 2011 to 2012.  OSHA has said  it is one of the top causes of deaths in the oil and gas injury, with many of those incidents involving tools, equipment or other items falling from heights.

One group, based mostly out of the North Sea, but expanding, is called DROPS.   One of the first things that strikes you about the group is its openness to admit the industry has a problem.  A large part of its mission is to share reports of accidents and potential accidents and then to share both lessons learned from incidents and best practices.  According to the group’s last statistical roundup, from April of 2011 to April of 2013, its participants reported 220 potential or actual incidents.  of that group, about 27% involved drilling operations, 18% involved lifting operations and some 13$ involved maintenance operations.

The DROPS website has a lot of every good information and lessons learned.  It should be on every safety manager’s list of bookmarked internet sites.