Occupational Health & Safety

Eventually, the industry created a common curriculum for land and offshore training: SafeLandUSA and SafeGulf were formed.

Preparing for 'The Great Crew Change'

Widespread managerial turnover in maritime and in the oil & gas exploration and production industry has sparked development of new training tools on coaching and mentoring.

Silica exposures, driving hazards, near misses, and job safety analyses are hot training topics at the moment for workers involved in the oil & gas exploration and production industry. However, supervisor training also is much in demand, said Martin Glenday, president of Moxie Media, a New Orleans-based company that produces online and video training for this industry on topics ranging from oil spill cleanup to dropped object prevention, infectious disease prevention, incident investigation, and contractor duties and responsibilities.

"The biggest thing in the oil and gas industry which most people don't realize: For the major operators, everything is done by contractors. Really, it's the contractors who have the burden of meeting the safety requirements," Glenday said during a Dec. 13, 2012, interview.

OSHA once had a hands-off policy in dealing with big energy companies, but now the agency has dialed in and is placing both drilling contractors and well servicing contractors under increased scrutiny, he added. "A lot more attention has been put to the land side. They were always sort of the dark horse of the industry, 'pretty wild out there.' Safety and health was a concern, but it certainly wasn't focused on like the offshore. The offshore, there's so much money and attention put on it -- a lot more scrutiny, with a lot more requirements in place."

Operators have their own requirements for contractors, and these cover much more than safety training. At one time, this meant contractors' employees needed to be trained anew each time that contractor was hired. Eventually, the industry created common curricula for land and offshore training: SafeLandUSA and SafeGulf were formed.

These cover all of the major OSHA points "and then some," Glenday said. "It's awareness-level training. In some ways it's been good and bad for the industry, in our opinion. It brings up the lowest common denominator a notch, so the guys who never did anything at least get something. But what it's done is homogenized the perception of a lot of these companies. [They say] 'If I do SafeLand, I don't have to do anything else.'"

Accrediting organizations play an important role. Mandeville, La.-based PEC and Dallas-based ISNetworld, among others, accept contractors' safety materials, training records, and other data, which operators use to compare and evaluate contractors when making hiring decisions.

Driving and Silica Hazards in the Spotlight
Rig workers' respirable silica exposures during hydraulic fracturing operations are on the radar of both OSHA and NIOSH as a result of the latter agency's May 2012 release of air sampling results its personnel obtained at fracking sites in several states. In speeches at the 2012 OSHA Oil & Gas Safety Conference held in Dallas in December, OSHA Administrator Dr. David Michaels and NIOSH Director Dr. John Howard praised members of the National Service, Transmission, Exploration & Production Safety (STEPS) Network of operators and contractors for quickly responding to the silica overexposure data. Safety leaders from member companies promised to address the problem immediately and to implement long-term solutions. A silica short term solutions working group has developed a guidance document to help workers minimize silica exposures.

Michaels said STEPS is making a big difference and mentioned safety stand-downs would be done by STEPS members in Texas and Montana in early 2013. Both agencies' leaders told their audience that the industry's fatality rate, which is seven times higher than U.S. industries' national average rate, must come down. Howard said the industry's most frequent type of fatal event is a motor vehicle accident. Many of the crash victims are workers driving company pickup trucks, he said.

"We're producing a program right now on tank truck rollover prevention," said Glenday. "That's a huge issue because when you’ve got fracking, you use an incredible amount of water. So they're having to regularly transport both freshwater and waste water, and these well sites are usually in the most incredibly difficult places to get to in the country -- meaning they're up on mountains; there are no roads; the roads, when they are there, are muddy."

Questions About Near Misses
Job Safety Analyses (JSAs) and near misses are popular training topics for this industry, as well.

"There's been a lot of talk about how to record those. What is classified as a near miss? How should the employee report it? So we're actually going to be producing a program about that for both the oilfield and the maritime employers, because it is significant," Glenday said. "A near miss is an almost-accident. The good thing about a near miss is there wasn't an accident, but the bad thing is, with a very small, minor change, it could have been.

"How do you address those? How do you adopt controls? When do you classify a near miss as an accident and roll out all of those tools that an accident would encounter? More and more associations and customers are requiring companies to report near misses, but there are differences in how they're reported. Even within the same company, you might have one rig that's reporting a hundred near misses and another rig that's reporting ten. That might not mean the one with a hundred is less safe; they might just be doing a better job of reporting near misses."

E-learning has been difficult to implement for this industry for reasons that include bandwidth issues for remote sites and limited computer skills among the workforce. However, that is changing, Glenday said. "What companies are finding is that it's definitely one tool in their arsenal for training. The great thing is that it's not only great for a dispersed workforce, but also you have the recordkeeping to back it up, which is needed for our litigious world where you might face an audit at any time."

In addition, e-learning is ideal for younger workers coming into the field. "They have been weaned on computers, and phones, and everything else. In the beginning, we were gearing all of our programs to PCs. Now, we're converting them all to work on iPads," Glenday said. "With Apples, and Android, and Google, it's a challenge to make a program that will work on all of those platforms. We’re having to keep on top of the technology."

He said only the companies with deep pockets can afford custom training programs, which can cost as much as $100,000 apiece, but Moxie Media does produce them and often can then produce generic versions and bring them to other customers in the industry. "For every one big company, there's probably a thousand smaller companies that need something very similar to it," Glenday said.

Demand for Coaching and Mentoring Training
"One of the frequent calls we get are for supervisory training. They call it 'the great crew change': All of the older workers are leaving, sort of the baby boomers coming of age, and younger workers now are being put into these middle management or senior management positions," Glenday said. "And they were trained by the good old boy network of 'It's my way or the highway,' so they don't have the skills to manage the new, younger workforce, who are much more attuned to proactive coaching in their career skills." He said his company is developing programs and materials about coaching and mentoring so these managers can connect with the younger employees.

A similarly widespread managerial turnover is occurring in the maritime industry, for which the company also offers a large catalog of safety and security courses. DVD and online course materials created for one of these industries won’t work well for the other. In fact, the training products must be based on work tasks and surroundings the audience members experience, or they'll tune out, said Chris Plaeger, a Moxie Media account manager in Houston.

"Aside from the buy-in that you have to maintain with the technology, we succeed because we are specific to the market we’re trying to serve," he explained. Workers in the oil & gas industry won't respond to a program if it shows factory settings, and offshore workers won't respond well to a program depicting hazards and safety practices for a drilling rig crew on land, Plaeger said.

Both men said the company plans to develop many more offerings for well servicing contractors. Any program the company produces will be translated into Spanish and possibly into additional languages, Plaeger said.

This article originally appeared in the February 2013 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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