Early next year, researchers will fan out to well sites, loading yards, man camps and anywhere else they believe they can find oil and gas workers to ask them about safety. It is a first of its kind study that is being launched by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), according to an article in the Denver Post. The federal government plans to spend three years surveying and studying the industry to get a handle on worker injuries.
The government is concerned at the high rate of injuries and fatalities on the oil and gas work sites. Officials say the incident rate for oil and gas is seven times higher than the rest of U.S. industry. According to the report, researchers will try to get at the heart of the problem by asking workers “about the types of injuries they’ve suffered while on the job, what they were doing when they were injured, the training they’ve had and whether oil companies provide bonuses to workers who don’t report an injury or incident over a certain length of time.”
What will come out of the study? Nothing in the short-term. As noted above, the government says it will take three years to survey industry and study the data. After that, OSHA may use the results to work with industry to hone in on problem areas or it could be used to prompt legislation and changes to regulations. It is significant that the study will have a heightened focus on transportation, both worker and trucking.
Working safely is a good thing. Jumping through hoops to convince an oil and gas company you are working safely can be a hassle. One of the things you frequently hear from contractors in the oil and gas industry is how much more oversight they are getting from their operator customers.
They are right. It is. It has to. Here is why:
The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) represents on and offshore oil and gas companies. One of its services is to keep worldwide statistics on safety. The report is worth looking at and benchmarking against.
The graphic above represents how much work offshore is done by oil company employees vs. how much work is done by contractor personnel. Operator employees worked about 750,000 hours and contractors worked nearly 3 million hours …about a four to one ratio. While it is not the focus of the study, the change over time should grab your attention. Back in 2000, the different between contractor hours and operator hours was a little more than 2-to-1. But then the use of contractors starts to climb rapidly.
Chances are great that some of the difference is that OGP has improved its sampling data. But even taking that into account, what this shows is an industry in a rapid transition. Within a short 10 years, upstream oil and gas has moved from a model when the host company used its own employees to do a large percentage of its work to one that brings in outside companies to do most of its work.
That has changed oil and gas in fundamental ways that we are only now coming to grips with, including in the area of safety. The focus of oil company safety divisions has shifted from managing internal safety programs to managing a mix of internal programs with a large chunk of overseeing contractor safety.
And the flavor of that oversight differs from region to region. In some areas, like the U.S., contractors may bring more expertise than the operators to a specific type of operation. In other areas, using outside contractors is mandated by local content laws, designed to bring that expertise to a local population. In some cases, the operator is a kind of virtual company, bringing in outside personnel for the vast majority of its hands-on operations.
In any event, the change has already taken place and now industry is really reacting, trying to come up with the right system to make it all work. If you doubt that, look at how bumpy the process of managing contractors under SEMS has been.
So for contractors- yes, customer oversight is on the rise. And, ready or not, it is the future of the industry.