Each year, thousands of people get injured due to slip, trip and fall incidents in workplaces, and the oil and gas industry is no exception.
High wind, snow, heat, rain and elevation are all typical environments for those who work in oil and gas. Whether they are changing light bulbs, working on blowout preventers or greasing motors and pulleys, they perform various tasks above or at ground level. Workers are working in environments where surfaces are slippery due to hydrocarbons, chemical spillage and weather conditions, and there are many other hazards too, as equipment moves fast and things happen quickly.
As a result of major incidents in the oil and gas industry there have been some pressures from regulators and the media over certain oil and gas companies’ safety performance monitoring systems, as some companies have been concentrated more on personal safety indicators such as slips, trips and falls rather than process safety indicators that are defined for the prevention of major incidents. That said, their importance cannot be overlooked and it is widely accepted that slip, trip and fall incidents cause many fatalities and injuries in workplaces. The issue becomes more significant as the majority of oil and gas fields are located in remote areas and in the case of an incident, companies have limited access to emergency services, not to mention the related indirect and direct costs including a wide range of liabilities. This article focuses on a prevention plan for such incidents and how oil and gas companies should approach reducing the number of slip, trip and fall incidents and related non-conformities.
What the statistics say
Slips, trips and falls have been attributed to a lot of major injuries and fatalities in the oil and gas industry. According to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) offshore statistics, in 2014 there were 58 incidents attributed to slips, trips and falls, which accounted for a third of all injuries that year. The statistics also indicate that since 2012 the number of incidents has increased year on year. According to the National Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), between 2003 and 2013 slips, trips and falls were attributed to 97 fatal cases in US oil and gas companies. The 2014 incident statistics from the International Association of Oil and Gas Operators also indicated that 11.1% of fatalities and 29.7% of lost working day cases were attributed to slips and trips and falls, where drilling and production activities allocated 42% of total lost working day cases.
The traditional approach
For the prevention of slip, trip and fall incidents, the majority of companies concentrate on regular tool box talks in relation to housekeeping, installing slip resistance materials, awareness posters, safety tours and STOP systems. Despite some successes, the statistics indicate that a large proportion of major injuries are still related to the slips and trips and falls category.
With this in mind, the questions we might ask are:
• Is the traditional approach useful?
• Is the traditional approach properly implemented?
• Do we have other solutions to prevent or reduce the number of slips, trips and falls?
The oil and gas industry encompasses numerous threats and it is important that these threats are not viewed in islolation. To tackle slip, trip and fall incidents, organisations should go beyond the traditional approaches. In fact, in order to reduce the number of slip, trip and fall incidents, a strategic framework must be provided by an organisation. There is no need to accentuate that in bigger organisations the results of such a prevention strategy depend on the correct design of a prevention plan, proper implementation, involvement of all employees and an organisational safety culture to achieve the required results.
To draw an appropriate prevention plan, the following issues should be considered.
Reviewing all incidents
A review of the literature indicates that the majority of slip, trip and fall incidents are not reported and are not conveyed to top levels to get the attention of management. In addition to that, in such incidents it is too common and easy to place the blame for an injury on the worker. In fact, company incident data should be regarded as a valuable source of information and could assist in defining the contributory factors to incidents, including direct and indirect causes.
Classifications of extracted data under organisational, human, environmental and design factors will lead to better interpretation of gathered data:
• Organisational factors include management, supervision and procedures
• Human factors encompass attitudes, risk perceptions and behaviours
• Environmental factors include weather conditions
• Design factors include the design and maintenance of floors and stairways
During data gathering all variables such as age and experience of employees, process environment, and activity at the time of the incident should be considered. It is clear that to extract such data a detailed incident investigation should be performed. An HSE review of recorded incidents indicated that the highest number of both slip, trip and fall incidents and high falls (from 2m and above) occur during drilling and maintenance activities.
Consultation with employees
Consultation with employees including OIM, safety representatives, maintenance staff and using structured questions based on incidents causal factors have been seen as great sources to draw an appropriate prevention strategy. In fact, a successful prevention strategy depends on accurate and up-to-date knowledge of all employees, including shop floor employees, as some information cannot be extracted from incident reports or literature. For instance, following staff feedback about the suitability of provided footwear against slip hazards, a third party company got involved to investigate the slipperiness of their footwear types and possible alternatives. The result of assessment was to get significant data about the performance of footwear in conditions where footwear had been used and remove that specific footwear from the standard list if not appropriate to the task. It also assisted in identifying suitable alternative footwear.
While analysing slip, trip and fall risks and implementing a prevention plan, the hierarchy of controls should be considered. In fact, changing of the design should be one the top priorities and employee consultation plays an important factor in changing the design of equipment or workplace layout. Following numerous incidents due to slips, trips and falls on offshore installations and exposure of company surveyors to such hazards, the Bureau Vertias Company decided to develop a guideline for design of access means on offshore installations to prevent similar incidents. The first step was to analyse the means of access on installations and involve surveyors on the design process. The surveyors were interviewed and asked their opinions about the means of access used on installations, related occupational risks and suggestions for improvement. At the next stage, anthropometric analysis was carried out to determine the structural dimensions required for safe design of means of access. Finally, all these efforts led to the creation of a guideline for design of access means on offshore installations and vessels, which ultimately would reduce the associated risks.
Conducting site inspection
Site inspection and speaking with workers who are routinely exposed to slip, trip and fall hazards has been seen as a valuable source of information, as they are in the best position to suggest which mitigation measures will reduce the risks in an effective manner and how such mitigation measures should be implemented.
One of the biggest barriers in prevention of slips, trips and falls is poor perception of management and workers, as they do not take such incidents seriously or they think that such incidents are inevitable. Changing these beliefs, therefore, is key to preventing such incidents. In addition to this, an organisation’s positive safety culture is the cornerstone to achieving the required results. In fact, it could easily be argued that whether other safety efforts such as regular housekeeping, installation of slip resistant materials and proper footwear lead to the prevention of incidents depends totally on the organisation’s safety culture. Poor safety culture will have an impact on every aspect of an organisation: from management and the level of incident reporting to workers’ risk perceptions, behaviours and attitudes.
The majority of literature on the subject of slips, trips and falls is focused on hardware and environmental issues such as the slip resistance of flooring, or cleaning and maintenance regimes, with little information on human factors. The UK’s HSE offshore oil and gas division has prepared a check list to address human factors associated with slip, trip and fall accidents. The results of assessment could help organisations to review the potential risk factors and prescribe tangible solutions.
Role of human factors
Human error is one of the leading causes of workplace incidents. Analysis of previous incidents indicated that unsafe behaviours were attributed to more than 85% of the undesired events. Human factors such as individual risk perception, attitude, training, personality, age, gender, experience and motivation are crucial elements in the prevention of slip, trip and fall incidents. For instance, research work carried out on individual risk perceptions of floor slipperiness indicated the following variations:
• Individual age
• Type of shoes being worn
• Condition of the shoes
• Contamination on the floor
• Speed or motion across the floor
• Level of lighting
Individual perceptions in relation to the risk of slips, therefore, will increase with the above variations. As mentioned before, the majority of literature in relation to slips, trips and falls is focused on hardware and environmental issues because they provide ‘easy’ solutions to revealed non-conformities, compared with complicated human factors that bear various variations to determine the level of influence. The literature review indicates that direct causes of slip, trip and fall incidents are well documented but lack the required underlying causes, including human factors, making it difficult to draw an appropriate prevention plan. These incidents are very complex and involve a number of risk factors, and it is necessary to apply an understanding of human factors.
Even though behavioural safety programmes have been seen as a great tool with which to deal with the issue of human factors, there are other variations such as the level of employees’ involvement and an organisation’s safety culture that determine the effectiveness of such programmes. For example, an individual who has extra workload due to job requirements and works in an organisation where ‘production concept’ has priority over safety issues is more prone to be involved in an incident of slips, trips and falls, regardless of which type of behavioural safety programme has been used in the company.
Develop a database
A database that gets its input from incident investigation results, site inspections, STOP or other similar systems and employee feedback can lead to establishing the trends and finding the best approach to prevent slips, trips and falls.
Statistics still indicate that a large proportion of major injuries are related to slip, trip and fall incidents. Oil and gas companies should go beyond the traditional approach and should have a long term prevention strategy for reducing the number of slip, trip and fall incidents. Initial data gathering is critical and detailed incident investigation and review of past incidents could assist companies in defining contributory risk factors and prepare a better slips, trips and falls prevention plan. Organisational and human factors play fundamental roles in the prevention of slip, trip and fall incidents and indicate that a structured and long term plan is required for reducing the non-conformities.
Published: 2nd Mar 2016 in Health and Safety Middle East