| Written by Mark Buzinkay

The big question is how can we effectively balance error-prone human nature with increasingly complex, expensive and hazardous workplaces like the ones in the oil and gas industry? 
Drill Rig Safety

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If there was one single solution to the problem of unwanted errors in high-hazard industries, we would have heard about it. Instead, there are many different things we can do about safety on drill rigs.

Take the short cut and enjoy our free on-demand webinar about safety culture and a learn-based approach to zero harm.

Drill rig safety: control-based approach

There are a variety of safety measures that can be put in place in order to make workplaces like those in the oil and gas industry safer. Some of these measures include:

  1. Improved training for workers on how to safely perform their tasks
  2. More stringent safety regulations that must be followed by all workers
  3. The use of safer equipment and materials in the workplace
  4. Improved communication between workers and management on safety concerns

A control-based approach to safety is one that focuses on putting controls in place to minimize the risks of accidents and injuries. This approach often involves improving training for workers, more stringent safety regulations, and the use of safer equipment and materials.

One of the benefits of a control-based approach is that it can help to reduce the number of accidents and injuries that occur in high-hazard industries. By taking measures to improve training and safety regulations, companies can make their workplaces safer for employees. Additionally, using safer equipment and materials can help to prevent accidents and injuries from occurring in the first place.

Another benefit of a control-based approach is that it can help to improve communication between workers and management on safety concerns. By having better communication, workers and management can be more aware of potential hazards in the workplace and can take steps to avoid them.

By taking these measures, it is possible to significantly reduce the number of accidents and injuries that occur in high-hazard industries. But is it enough? The reality shows, it is not.

It is not because it is a control-based approach. Safety experts know it because they realize how damaging it is. We always tend to blame individuals, finding who is responsible for this error this time, and often replacing that person like you might replace a defective part in a machine. Whenever there was an incident or unwanted event, we often wind up saying, well, we're going to increase policies and procedures or clarify policies and procedures. Right control-based approach is very mechanistic. It works great with machines but not so well with humans.


Drill rig safety: Learn-based approach

There is another approach how to mitigating risks and errors in a highly hazardous environment. Let's call it the learn-based approach. Looking at the control-based approach, it is easy to understand. Instead of eliminating failures, the learn-based approach is going to focus a lot more at least on expanding successes and finding out how. These things get done successfully, safely, efficiently, and profitably, and cloning those successes rather than trying to eliminate every failure.

And instead of blaming individuals, we're going to focus more on improving our systems, following the (wise) rule to be kind to individuals and ruthless on our systems.

So the learning-based approach would say instead of expecting perfection, we're going to expect humans to be humans. And instead of increasing compliance, we're going to try to increase resilience, the ability of our systems to withstand and come back without damage after.

But how do you create a learn-based culture?

First of all, you need the ability to be able to learn and feel safe regarding taking risks in team meetings. That's called psychological safety. Psychological safety is the belief that you're not going to be punished or humiliated, or shamed for speaking up with controversial ideas, challenging questions, inconvenient concerns or honest mistakes.

So here's a practical step for psychological safety after an error. Instead of saying Joe failed to do X, whatever it was like Joe failed to, ask this question instead: "What did Joe do, and why did it make sense, at least at that time, for did Joe to do what he did right?"

The learn-based culture can help oil rig safety in a number of ways. First, it can help create a more positive and productive environment where employees feel safe to take risks and voice their concerns. Second, it can help improve systems by finding out what works and cloning those successes. And third, it can help increase resilience by making our systems more able to withstand and come back from errors.

Learn more about HSE offshore


Drill rig safety - it's the culture

It has been said that culture eats strategy for breakfast. In other words, no matter how well-planned and implemented a safety strategy may be, it will ultimately be undermined by an unsafe culture.

Safety culture is the product of an organization's values, attitudes, beliefs, policies and practices regarding safety. It is the sum total of how safety is managed within an organization, from the top down and the bottom up.

An organization with a strong safety culture is one in which safety is given priority over other objectives and where employees are empowered to speak up about unsafe conditions or practices without fear of reprisal.

On the other hand, weak safety culture is one in which safety is seen as a secondary concern and where employees are reluctant to speak up about unsafe conditions or practices for fear of reprisal.

Strong safety culture is essential for any organization that wishes to operate safely. It is crucial in high-risk industries such as the oil and gas industry, where the consequences of an accident can be catastrophic.

Further reading: Using transponders in an emergency mustering



The learn-based approach in safety is all about learning from mistakes and successes, and using that knowledge to improve safety systems. This approach focuses on finding out what works well and replicating those success stories, rather than simply trying to eliminate all failures.

This kind of thinking can lead to a more positive culture around safety, where instead of expecting perfection, we understand that humans will make mistakes – but that our systems can be resilient enough to withstand them, even during emergency mustering. Psychological safety is key to this kind of culture change, as it allows team members to feel comfortable speaking up with new ideas or concerns without fear of punishment or humiliation.

So, after an error occurs on an oil rig (or anywhere else), instead of immediately placing blame, the learn-based approach would be to ask what led to the error and how we can prevent it from happening again. This kind of thinking can help us improve our oil rig safety systems and make them more resilient in the face of mistakes.




Dive deeper into one of our core topics: Personnel on board