Six Steps to Digitizing Your Oil and Gas Safety Program

Six Steps to Digitizing Your Oil and Gas Safety Program

One of the main reasons software implementations fail is because the scale of the project was too much from the outset. 

Oil and gas extraction sites can be transient, accounting for constant changes in environments and people working on tasks and with equipment and materials that pose a high risk to worker safety. With crews and job sites in flux and safety risks high, making the transition out of clipboards, papers, spreadsheets and even emails, might seem daunting, time-consuming and just as risky as continuing to stay with your paper-based system.

The question is, “How can we make the switch from spreadsheets and clipboards to digital EHS software smooth?” Where there is a will, there is a way, and here are some general and easy guidelines for a smooth transition.

Step 1: Collect Your Spreadsheets, Paper Checklists and Any Other Data You’re Recording

Not sure where everything is? You’re not alone. Take some time to think about what kind of data your safety program typically collects. Where are the places that information might live? It’s time to start a bit of a treasure hunt.

On top of the “usual suspects,” like incident reporting forms, consider if there are departments that use a form for a particular task or program, like lockout/tagout. Enlist the help of people from those departments to confirm what they are using and how they collect, store and share that information.

Step 2: Breakdown Your Plan into Something Reasonable, Scalable

One of the main reasons software implementation fails is because the scale of the project was too much from the outset. Be realistic when you set your goals. Consider using the SMART method, meaning identify specific, measurable, actionable, reasonable and timely goals. You will also want to start small. Which goals are reasonable for achieving in the next 30, 60 and 90 days? Organizing your goals into smaller, more manageable tasks will keep the project from feeling overwhelming and lead you to better success, implementation and buy-in.

Step 3: Identify Your Priorities

When you’re collecting forms that need to transition into digital software, prioritize which ones you’ll need to tackle first. You may want to start with your incident report before moving on to behavior-based safety reporting (near misses and observation reports) or equipment inspection checklists. You’ll need to determine how to collect additional data and get input on corrective and preventative actions. This step will look different for everyone and starts with a good project plan and assignments to ensure that projects get done, and your process is streamlined. As you get started, consider who will be responsible for:

  • Coordinating with operations, subcontractors or other vendors
  • Collecting all the different checklists *Ensuring every user can successfully log in
  • All the information getting entered into the system *Setting up and managing training on how to use the EHS software
  • Translating the paper and spreadsheet-related checklists into online audits and inspections or online tools for accident and incident management

Outlining tasks like these and documenting everything in writing for everyone involved will start a solid project plan that will maintain transparency and accountability.

Step 4: Find Executive Sponsorship

Executive sponsorship doesn’t have to mean enlisting the president, owner or a corporate vice president to get involved or sign off on your project plan. It really means finding someone from upper-level management who’s willing to show up at meetings, help remove any bottlenecks and exhibit leadership and ownership over the entire process.

Consider if your executive sponsor should be someone who isn’t directly part of environmental health and safety. While a vice president of EHS will be eager to work on transitioning from paper safety checklists and spreadsheets to digital, it can behoove you to bring other upper management or C-level executives on board. Consider how someone like the head of operations, chief finance officer or maybe even the CEO can send an organizational message that what you are doing is critical with buy-in from the top.

Step 5: Stay Focused, but be Realistic

Safety is everyone’s responsibility, not just the EHS team, so it will help everyone be committed to transitioning the organization into digital EHS data management. While someone will be ultimately responsible for the overall safety program, positive safety outcomes are only possible when the entire organization is committed to its success. Talk with other departmental leadership, work with your executive sponsor to help carry the message and tasks throughout the organization. Sometimes there can be a misconception that safety takes too much time and brings down the team. Figure out how to break down that idea and focus on how safety establishes better and more transparent processes that help ensure everyone is safely performing their duties. Maybe the most critical selling point to emphasize with your workforce is examples of how EHS software can easily collect, store, and look up information and make their lives easier.

Step 6: Show How This Digital Transition Helps Everyone

Here’s an example: An operations manager working from the corporate office needs to be notified as soon as an incident or near-miss incident occurs. In a paper-based or email system, that event notification could take hours, days or even weeks to assemble and make its way to their desk.

With an EHS software, that operations manager will receive a real-time notification of the incident on their phone which includes details of what happened, pictures from the event, and descriptions. Forget about the delay of hunting down information, compiling it in a report and then sending it to the manager well after the event.

The real value of instant notification is now the operations manager will be able to see the follow-up actions and status. They will be armed to make quicker and better-informed decisions to ensure that the relevant jobs and operations associated with the event can continue with minimal to no disruption and with worker safety in mind.

Not convinced? Here’s another scenario: A heavy equipment operator needs to run through a pre-use checklist at the start of every shift, but today someone removed the laminated checklist card from the cab. This worker wants to start their shift so they can start moving material before someone complains.

In a paper-based world, that operator has to contact their supervisor about the missing checklist, figure out where it is, fill it out and then give it to somebody who will later enter the information into a spreadsheet to confirm the inspection. That might take 15 minutes or more where this employee will be running around doing something they don’t want to be and should not have to be doing.

Pulling that checklist up on their phone is more accessible, better organized and cuts down the time someone else will spend inputting that information into a spreadsheet. The operator is already off and working to ensure the equipment is safe to use and moving material in a few clicks.

Alright, one last example for the employees whose safety involvement requires on-site response. In this scenario, the safety coordinator has to drive from the main office towards a well site every time there’s a collision or safety incident to determine if everyone is okay and if anyone might need first-aid or more substantial medical treatment.

Because they are in a rush to triage the situation, they keep forgetting the incident forms they have to fill out. Even if they have a notepad or take notes on their phone, they’re still going to have to drive back to the main office to retrieve the form and then back down again to find witnesses so they can complete their report.

EHS software can prevent this coordinator from unnecessary trips. With a phone they likely already have, they can tap and quickly find the necessary resources and get guided, real-time instructions that will make their job much easier. Digitization does not Happen Overnight It can be extremely daunting and feel like more effort than it is worth changing how you manage your safety program. But with small, easy-to-accomplish tasks and a committed organization, the transition to software will be smooth and take less time than you initially thought. All in the name of better safety for everyone.

Digitization does not Happen Overnight

It can be extremely daunting and feel like more effort than it is worth changing how you manage your safety program. But with small, easy-to-accomplish tasks and a committed organization, the transition to software will be smooth and take less time than you initially thought. All in the name of better safety for everyone.

This article originally appeared in the February 1, 2022 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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