| Written by Michal Wozniakowski-Zehenter

In the rapidly evolving world of Health, Safety, and Environment (HSE), there are a few individuals whose dedication, expertise, and innovative spirit stand out. Jake van den Dries is one such stalwart in the HSE domain. With his experience that speaks volumes, Jake has been a beacon of change and advancement in the HSE sphere. Today, we are privileged to have an insightful conversation with him, delving deep into his vast experience and the challenges he has faced over the years. Join us as we uncover the intricacies of HSE through the lens of one of its most esteemed practitioners.

Offshore Emergency Response

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What inspired you to pursue a career in Health, Safety, Security, and Environment (HSSE)?

In the 80`s I worked in the fire service in the Netherlands as a senior officer and it was great training at the fire service college, about teamwork and being a team leader. Then I worked in operations. There was a lot of post-traumatic stress, a lot of guys witnessed horrible scenes.

So, when I had my own family, I thought it was time to become more proactive. Of course, there were many things that people could do to avoid these incidents, but for me, starting in HSE was one way especially this is right after the Piper Alpha accident. So offshore became very, very interesting to me. Then I moved to the UK and started my career in HSE.


Can you share a specific project or initiative where you provided offshore oil & gas HSSEQ advice that significantly impacted an organisation's operations?

That took a while for me to get to that point because in the beginning, you think that HSE is a science or a discipline, but it's not. So, I ended up working in Qatar on a huge site and there were some fantastic companies working there, but they just didn't achieve the desired HSE performance they were looking for.

Then we heard of another company, an American consultancy, that worked with transformational safety and this was a completely different concept that we never thought about. We were able to talk to these guys, get them on board and then we included their efforts in the overall training program which made a huge difference.

This Pearl GTL project actually won the Shell CEO Award, I think we had around 75 Million man hours without any LTI’s which was unheard of in the industry. Since then this has been resonating in the industry and it was also the world's 1st. with such performance. I've also been able to copy this concept to other operators and FPSO contractors.  


What were the challenges of managing HSSE for 15 FPSOs and 3 FSOs, and how did you address them?

So, I did a lot of work in Brazil with the leadership workshops as we did in Qatar but of course, and initially I didn't have that exposure to the rest of these, I think, 11 different countries around the world. The problem was that all these projects were focused on the clients and they were trying to satisfy clients’ needs rather than what the company was looking for. With global workshops, we were able to convince the clients that what we were doing was good for Modec in general and also, we were trying to align ourselves with the IOGP standards, which is something that most oil & gas companies do.

The global COVID Pandemic of course was not that easy, but I think that by working together, we standardized the management system, and introduced systems like e-Mustering with Crew Companion, which made a huge difference and one of the benefits was that this enabled staff to become globally mobile. Today, many staff have taken this opportunity.

In the past if you worked on one FPSO or FSO that was the only place you could work in this company. Later on, we standardized how we worked, so we could really optimize the people's working locations, but also bring international experiences to other places as well. A good example is the operations in Mexico. We had a Brazilian HSE manager, but he was replaced by a Ghanaian HSE manager and a lot of the guys who had worked on other projects. And some of these projects were about to finish, we could reutilize these guys with the experience in the places where we need them. But it wasn't easy and it was slow, especially with COVID. I think in the end they having a standardized management system and standardized tools. This has been a huge benefit to the to the company.


You've held various roles, ranging from Offshore Safety Adviser to VP HSSE South America, and worked in diverse locations like the North Sea, Houston, and Qatar. How did you adapt your approach to HSSE in these different contexts?

Of course, all of the companies were different. When I worked in the North Sea, it was Enterprise Oil, a small company. In Houston, it was a lot of relations with Shell, afterwards in Qatar and then I worked for the Norwegian company, Equinor. They all have different - different environments.

My role at the time was really to connect the company and the company's safety culture with the people in the country where I was working, which was mainly in Brazil or for Brazil. In the end, it's about the people, and the people also have different religions, values, beliefs. You know, when we started to work on my first FPSO in Brazil, we only had eight different nationalities, but when I worked in Qatar we had sixty different nationalities. So, you can imagine that working in a multicultural environment is something that you really need to understand and how to work there. When you respect everybody and you know how they want to do things or from their own backgrounds and beliefs, then you can work on the HSE issues together.

Another thing is, that if you want to be a good HSE leader, someone who can demonstrate that to everybody else, then, a lot of the people want to emulate that performance as well, because it's good to be great, right?

It's about being in the field, being at site to ensure people can work safely and that you're there to answer any questions that these people may have. This is also something that I learned, that experience of how to be a leader, how to be approachable to other people and how to understand and respond to people when they have questions so that we can actually help them to do a better job.

How do you align HSSE strategies with broader business objectives?

I think it's a lot about having a common understanding of where the companies are. I used to work a lot with SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) analysis so that everybody started with the same understanding of what we could do and what would be the best thing to do.

But as I said before, in HSE, we’re  trying to work for the zero targets and how to do that is always impossible to know upfront, so as this transformational safety worked in Qatar, we took step by step and year by year working towards the same goals but it's about smaller actions for smaller time periods rather than setting a fixed strategy for the next four years which is going to fail because life changes.


As a leader in the HSSE domain, how do you ensure that safety culture is not only top-down but also embraced at the grassroots level by every employee?

That's like the golden question. I think it's important to know that the different groups have different needs. The leadership really wants to have input on the strategic level because they need to know, how HSE can contribute to improving the business, to optimize it, to make it more economic and to help drive the business. Also, to determine what the key is for the future.

Now the supervisors need to have the skills to be able to lead people. This is one of the key things because if you have a big site, like the one in Qatar, we ended up training, I think, nearly five and a half thousand supervisors on the three-level course and only because we had those people trained they could pass it on to the 50,000 workers on site. These supervisors need skills, which is not just knowledge but also practical experience.

The training that we did on the three-level course actually included a lot of the one of course the aspects they had to deal with at the site with the 60 different nationalities. We also teach them how to supervise, what we call, unsafe work. How are unsupervised people working on the scaffold? Do you shout to them or do you talk to them? You know, these are the things we had to train these people on because if you have a site like that, you cannot go back to an experienced workforce. It's mostly people who are new to the industry and quite often new to the roles as well. But then the opportunity is to align that training for all of these people so that everybody's doing it in the same way. It was very successful.

In the end, it's about the people at the site and I remember when we got to 2000 workers, we could still see the site growing, but when we got to thirty or forty thousand, you just don't see it anymore. You are visible to the people at the site but you can only talk to individuals there. One of the things we did there, was actually putting stickers on their hats, that said “Talk to me about safety”. It was not just about us telling them, what to do and how to do things, but it was also about learning what the challenges were that these people were dealing with and the advice that they required. When you discuss that in the plenary meetings, then you really know what the issues are. The site is not what we just assume that it's all how it all works (learn more about FPSO safety here)

These are really the three levels that, I would say, are the key for the management - where are we going in the future? Supervisors need to have theoretical courses with a lot of practical training. It's about how they deal with the people at the site and in the end, the people may have questions and we need to learn to understand what these questions are and help them with that. If you help these people with answering their questions then they will come back to you. Too many people work at sites but don't talk to the management because they just give a textbook answer that is not what they are looking for. We need to help them with their challenges.

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