| Written by Mark Buzinkay
Safety is an integral part of offshore operations but also a factor that contributes to greater profits. The beginning “Great Crew Change” and the expanding area of offshore activities demand more than a focus on safety know-how and preparedness. It is imperative to rethink the way safety knowledge is shared within the workforce.
In this extended article we talk about improving the emergency training response.
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Truly offshore drilling began 70 years ago, and the industry continues to flourish today. The demand for oil and gas remains high despite the trend of decarbonization of global activities, and new technologies like wind farms which are developed to also profit from offshore energy. Industry trends suggest a shift into the digitalization of processes – from exploration to process optimisation: 3D modelling, blockchain, augmented reality, big data, robotics, and the internet of things are a few of these trends among others (1). What remains from the past are the harsh environments and the expansive and complex machinery which have been a constant companion of the offshore industry since its beginning.
In the future, companies in the offshore sector will continue to lower carbon emissions, while also being forced to lower costs to attract necessary investments (2) and stay competitive. Cutting costs mandates excellent operational practices, lower technical risks, and better exploitation of smaller reservoirs, even in more difficult areas like the deep sea. Besides that, “the Great Crew Change” may be one of the bigger challenges to the offshore industry in the coming years: as many experienced workers will retire, the cohort of late 30s to 50s is small. With retirement departs knowledge and experience negatively affecting safety and productivity, and emergency response training will become more crucial.
The first mobile offshore drilling units were deployed in the mid 1950’s. Since then, technology made giant steps with a steep learning curve. Because of the many tragic incidents and several disasters on offshore installations like the Alexander L. Kielland sinking and the Piper Alpha Disaster, the need for worker safety has been reevaluated. More and more, workplace safety was enforced with regulatory power. The Norwegian safety standards (3) for offshore installations (including offshore safety equipment) are considered the strictest in the world. There is no surprise that the safety record of this industry is one of the highest among others in Norway (4).
As companies now understand auditing and reporting, a safety plan, and emergency response training, promote a culture of safety and go hand-in-hand with business growth. There are still factors that challenge the existing rig safety standards: inconsistent level of commitment to safety, a lack of trained safety professionals and seasoned personnel being replaced.
In hazardous work, safety rules are unavoidable: They prescribe in general procedures staff must follow. Where operations are heavily regulated such as on an offshore oil rig, safety rules standardize underlying activities. But sometimes, they can be not easy to follow as prescriptions. Due to changing and unpredictable circumstances, members are required to adopt rules in the various contexts and situations they may encounter. In this case, safety rules act as guidelines that help make sense of the workers’ environments and develop specific expertise.
In many hazardous industries, accidents are key moments to enhance knowledge about dangers and their consequences. These lessons are often codified into standards and rules, abstracted to fit a variety of circumstances. The process of documenting lessons includes individual narratives, descriptions, collected data and other means of translating failure into a helpful and effective collection of safety rules.
Updating rules from incident to incident is important, but also incorporating the danger of tightening safety rules too far, and in effect, hampering the member’s adaption of a safety rule to a specific situation.
The success of safety rules depend entirely on whether and how members apply lessons and skills in the moment of danger (5). This in-the-moment mindfulness about hazards and situations is the intended objective of any emergency response training based on safety rules.
Safety rules as codified experiences from incidents result from the (ethical) responsibility of organizations to assure the safety of their members. This includes all activities and the workplace, identifying and mitigating threats. It has been shown that socially supportive environments and the role of the organization in setting clear guidelines regarding safety are important to establish a safety culture, independent of the industry (6).
In the furniture manufacturing industry, for example, occupational accidents often result from non-compliance to machining regulations and incorrect work practices. Promoting a safety culture plays an important role within this sector (7). To reduce occupational accidents, the promotion of continuing professional development is required to change members’ behaviour to machine safety. This involves not only addressing a safety culture within the industry but also lifelong learning.
Lifelong learning is part of an attitude that may be best described as preparedness and results in fast reaction and adaption of skills and knowledge in case of sudden threats. It is important to note that safety skills and the corresponding training programs depend also on organizational issues. The firm’s structure, middle management’s commitment to safety, and the effectiveness of safety trainers in improving the quality of training sessions are key components.
As a result, knowledge transfer, motivation to learn, and capture the necessary information in safety training sessions is enabled. According to Jaselskis (8) and O’Toole (9), middle management’s commitment to safety training results in experiencing lower injury rates and helps with improving a company’s safety culture. (10)
Understand more about HSE, roles and wind farm operations...
Besides a vivid safety culture, there is no safety without training. The current literature supports the view that training is a major factor in sustaining and improving safety performance. Training is the transfer of practical know-how from one person to another. Three basic learning styles exist - visual, auditory, and hands-on learning. Individuals learn things in different ways and at their own pace. For example, visual learners learn best by seeing, while auditory learners like to listen, and hands-on learners learn best through practical instruction. (11)
Training inefficiency may occur when the goal of a training session is not set properly, and worker needs are not met when developing the safety training content. Well designed content results in higher efficiency during training sessions as workers start with differing levels of knowledge (12).
Therefore, designing safety training content requires an in-depth analysis of the materials, methods and processes that are perceived by workers to be of importance to safety. Hallowell (13) conducted eleven case studies in different regions of the U.S. and found that the most common methods used by companies to transfer safety knowledge are orientation and training sessions, toolbox talks, informal safety communication among workers, and formal presentations by safety managers.
Preparedness in hazardous environments plays an important role. Firefighters for example must effectively train in many subject areas to avoid injury. This includes learning through various learning actions from different sources like observation during training, drills, incidents, and responses, but also networking with other firefighters and educational material provided. (14)
One major aspect of collaborative learning is feedback and debriefs. Debriefs are a type of meeting in which team members discuss and learn from recent events such as training during which they worked together. Well-conducted debriefs can improve team effectiveness by 25% across a variety of organizations and settings. Subsequently, debriefs have been introduced in the medical field, the fire service, aviation, education, and in a variety of organizational training and simulation environments. (15)
Debriefs as well as feedback play an important part when it comes to improving safety skills and performance. Furnham (16) argues that safety performance can be enhanced by detailed and timely feedback as it reinforces learning. Other studies (17) found that feedback should be continuous to achieve safety performance. Therefore, feedback deserves special attention in conducting emergency response training.
As accurate feedback improves learning skills, clarifies safety learning, and reinforces strong communication among workers, there are different ways to obtain feedback. One is by using reflection. For the learning to occur by reflection, the learners should recapture and re-evaluate their previous experiences (18). Encouraging individual thinking, group discussions, exchanging ideas, comparing training notes, and organizing roundtable discussions might leverage learning by reflection, supported by training data obtained during the session. In summary, formal, and informal feedback is important in boosting workers’ learning relative to safety.
Alternatively, feedback can be obtained by tracking members during drills (compare e mustering solutions). Such practice helps to evaluate the training session and demonstrates how much was learned. Overall, collected data is comparable and helps to assess the results of an individual task or a team drill. Even complex scenarios can be recorded and monitored and later used for a better debriefing of a training session. This is not only applicable to work staff but also to management and command posts – in this way, real-world scenarios (like an evacuation after an explosion or a search-and-rescue operation) can be run in a dynamic “virtual” environment and recreate the decision-making processes in an emergency.
Safety training and feedback are at the core of improved safety behaviour. One aspect still stands out: promoting pride in work completed without accidents and motivating members through frequent and effective training meetings. Individuals who are part of an effectively trained team take pride in their company if projects are completed with an excellent safety record. (19)
One way to motivate for safety training is gaining buy-in. A promising strategy is to focus on what’s in it for every participant. If a safety program’s purpose is not clear or benefits the company only, many members won’t take the training seriously. An effective program presents how safety programs impact workers – for instance going home to families safely may outweigh the HSEQ managers campaign of zero accidents for the individual worker. The personal benefit must be bigger than the perceived inconvenience and the consequences of a potential accident obvious. Questions like “What are the short-term and long-term effects for the individual if the safety precautions are not taken seriously?” prompt more active engagement. Consequently, safety drills will be taken motivated with the intent to improve, independently of being announced or sudden.
High motivation, continuous practice and readiness for unexpected situations are best achieved when using behavioural objectives. Once the safety training’s purpose has been designed around the employee’s needs, learning outcomes must be decided. Goals and training objectives are critical to the training process and should be recorded to show improvements. This will further motivate members to participate in emergency response training to break another record, also by observing the differences between members or groups.
Get the full overview about emergency response management with our collection of articles!
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