Cuts to jobs, cuts to safety?

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Since the last issue of Tea Shack News, the oil and gas industry has taken a downturn which is challenging every part of the industry.  We spoke to four individuals from the industry about how this has impacted safety in the North Sea.

Many think involving the workforce is crucial to ensuring safety doesn't become the victim during the downturn.

"We don't know what safety changes are coming," said Dave Thomson, an elected safety rep.  "But companies need to engage their workforce and ask them where they should concentrate their spending for maximum benefit."

Jake Molloy, from RMT, agreed with us.  "During difficult times, engaging the offshore workforce is one of the most important things duty holders can do," he said.  "The workforce is in the best position to achieve improvements, as they are the ones dealing with day-to-day operations."

The HSE assured us there will be no change to their operations.  "The value of a worker's life hasn't changed, nor has the required standard of protection," said Tony Hetherington, director of the HSE Energy Division. "HSE inspectors will not accept reductions in safety or safety-related maintenance standards as a response to the downturn."

Reassuringly, Oil & Gas UK's Malcolm Webb, who represents employers, said: "Reducing costs and improving efficiency need have no impact on ensuring and maintaining our high standards of operational safety.  Effective safety management systems require strong, active and demanding leadership from all levels, including the very top.

"As an industry, we remain wholly committed to the safe exploration and recovery of hydrocarbon resources on the UKCS."


Simplify, Engage, Sustain

"At Step Change, we've discussed three concepts which are vital if we want to ensure the workforce and management are on the same page for developing safe operations," said Jake Molloy. 

"The first is the need to simplify.  We need to standardise safety operations around Step Change's guidance and significantly reduce costs.  We also need to engage.  The workforce can take ownership of the process to standardise safety practices, but employers must ensure engagement with the workforce is meaningful and effective.  But we must also sustain our efforts.  With a standardised and simplified approach to safety, we can sustain production with improvements in efficiency."

He isn't alone in his opinions.  "As companies look at ways of being more efficient, they may also discover ways of further improving safety practices, including through simplification and standardisation," said Malcolm Webb.  "This is an area of work where Step Change can have an important role."

"The most effective arrangements are where regulatory structures, processes, procedures and rules are as simple and straightforward as possible, so that everyone can understand them.  A safe system is generally a simple and stable system."

The HSE agree that simplifying practices is a safe way to help reduce costs and improve efficiency.

"Step Change can encourage the sharing of best practice and procedures that are used and understood by all," said Tony Hetherington. 

"But we must avoid starting lots of initiatives.  Too often we get some improvement and move on.  Within Step Change, we need to identify a few critical issues and concentrate on them, delivering clear, consistent solutions, and keep working until change is really embedded."