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Safety comes first: ExxonMobil Guyana talks up HSSE policy

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With the emergence of the oil and gas industry in Guyana, there are a number of concerns such as management of the industry and its resources, local content, limiting the environmental impact and safety. Among these concerns, the issue of workers’ safety stands out, given that over 1100 Guyanese have already been employed, many of whom have very limited experience in the oil and gas industry.

It is with this in mind that ExxonMobil Guyana’s Production Manager, Mike Ryan, explained that the company has been placing great importance on workers’ safety and ensuring that employees understand all of their Health, Safety, Security and Environment (HSSE) policies and regulations and live up to the expectations.

Ryan recently delivered a presentation on HSSE at a public forum where he provided a closer insight into ExxonMobil’s operations as it relates to safety. The four pillars of HSSE, Ryan noted, are vitally important.

“At ExxonMobil, we integrate them. A lot of our systems support excellence in Health, Safety, Security and Environment. We consider them core values to the way we work, not just priorities but we think about them every day,” he stated.

He went on to say that the company’s safety journey is not yet complete, and that they continue to pursue the highest degree of safety practices. “We have a vision of nobody gets hurt and it’s not just a vision. We work on it every day. It’s clearly an objective, we believe it’s achievable but we’re not there yet and that’s why I call it our safety journey,” he explained.

The beginning of the Journey

Speaking on the genesis of safety in oil and gas operations, the Production Manager shared that it stemmed from incidents that occurred in the early years of the industry.

“Early in our industry, there was an unacceptable number of people getting hurt and as we implemented regulations and standards and management systems, there was a marked improvement in the incident rate and that started coming down,” he told those gathered at a HSSE Conference held last week at the Guyana Marriott Hotel.

The safety mechanism in place covers several areas; one of those being the safety culture that exists within the oil and gas workforce.

“It’s the unspoken norms. What do people do when you’re not looking, what do they do when they go home. What is it that makes them tick?” he continued.

According to Ryan, “The unspoken norms that we try to implement at ExxonMobil is nobody gets hurt. It’s more than just words, it’s truly believing. It’s really knowing people and caring about people and if anybody gets hurt in any way, taking it very seriously and learning from it.”

“No business objective will be pursued at the sacrifice of safety,” he stressed.

Explaining what he meant by those sentiments, Ryan stated, “Meaning that when we’re all under pressure, how do we behave as leaders and individuals? Do we take shortcuts, or do we stay true to our commitment and say, ‘no…there’s something wrong and we need to step back and redo it, regardless of the business implications?”

He acknowledged that in situations where multiple objectives, multiple demands, and tight schedules exist, employees can feel pressures. Therefore, he posited that leaders must display commitment to putting people first.

“If you put people first, everything else falls in line. Those are some of our unspoken norms. If you have a culture around…and you actually have a discussion with your leadership team, that’s important. How your leaders, your first line leaders interact with the workforce, is extremely important,” he reiterated.

It was divulged that every incident where someone gets hurt is recorded and documented in a “hurt-based report.”

At level one, there is ‘a minor hurt.’ This is an incident where a worker might go back to work right away, he shared. Level two is dubbed ‘moderate hurt’ which is a more severe injury that might require stitches, antibiotics or a splint, while level three is ‘life-altering’ such as an incident where someone loses sight or has to undergo an amputation.  Levels four and five look at single and multiple fatalities.

When examining these incidents below level three, he noted, consideration is made about how much worse it could have been to make decisions on how such recurrences can be avoided.

Influencing Risk Tolerance

Great attention is also placed on detecting and influencing workers’ risk tolerance, the Production Manager divulged.

“We’re exposed to a hazard or risk and we need to ask ourselves; ‘how is our hazard identification? Do we see the risk?’ I think in most of our industries, we’re getting better at actually seeing the risk. At ExxonMobil, we’ve been doing hazard identification for quite some time. There are still some that we miss, that we have blind spots to but in most cases, we’re doing a good job,” he stated.

In cases where workers are able to identify a risk, Ryan says that they then need to understand the potential consequences of the risk.

“So, I’m working at height, I recognize that there’s a potential for me to fall…do I understand that? Most times, in the work force that we have, people understand the potential of a fall,” he said. A focus area, he continued, is influencing the tolerance levels of taking such risks.

“Do I take action? So, I see the hazard, I understand what the hazard is, but do I take action? Do I go and realise ‘Okay, I need to go get that fall protection equipment? I need to put it on. Or do I say, ‘No that’s not going to happen. It’s never happened to me before. I have never seen it happen to anybody. I’m going to take the risk. It’s an individual risk.’ And that’s where we need to make sure we educate our workforce to make sure that they do not have a higher risk tolerance than we expect them to. We expect them to follow rules and follow the regulations and our procedures….do not take risks,” he repeated.

Taking risks, the Production Manager disclosed, is not tolerated.

“We do try to foster a culture of empowerment, and having people take responsibility and accountability but there are certain parts of our business that you have to turn the grey into black and white,” he stated.

He continued, “And there are certain lifesaving rules and lifesaving actions that unfortunately because of our industry and things that have happened, some of these rules and actions have been written in blood, to be quite honest and blunt. We have an obligation to our workforce and their families to keep them safe at work. So, we have implemented a set of life saving actions across our operations.”

There are fundamental rules in certain areas such as confined-space entry, driving, and energy isolation.

“So, a lifesaving rule around energy isolation is before you work on a motor or pump, you must confirm zero energy. You must confirm that you have lockout-tagout in place…that’s a rule. It’s a lifesaving action. People have before worked on live equipment and seriously hurt themselves…so that’s black and white,” he told his audience.

Lockout-tagout or lock and tag is a safety procedure used in industry and research settings to ensure that dangerous machines are properly shut off and not able to be started up again prior to the completion of maintenance or repair work.

Failure to abide by those rules will result in disciplinary actions—something, which the Production Manager says is important.

“When people don’t follow those rules, you have to have a programme that addresses it from counselling, a form of discipline, up to termination. I would much rather have a conversation with somebody on not following rules and not working safe than speak to their family about an injury that they had. That’s part of leadership too, you have to make those tough decisions,” Ryan declared.

He said that they have been doing a lot of work with their workforce with the aim of helping them to make safe choices.

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