In a world where incidents continue to occur, Sphera’s new Safety Report 2021 offers keen insights into what’s driving risk in organizations.
But before we get to that, let’s set the scene.
Because of a fuel shortage in Venezuela, there has been a surge in illicit pipeline tapping in Colombia. When that happens, the fuel is then refined in “clandestine refineries” for illegal purposes, according to a recent report, and then turned into a type of gasoline known as “cricket’s foot.”
Well, what could go wrong there? Lots.
In Nigeria, for example, at least 25 people were recently killed when a refinery blast occurred after people had tapped into pipelines to sell fuel for a much less nefarious purpose: just to help make ends meet.
Thankfully, in the regulated world, oil and gas incidents are much less common nowadays, but that doesn’t mean they don’t continue to occur.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, there were six offshore fatalities (two of which were considered under BSEE jurisdiction) as well as 222 injuries in 2019, the most recent year for which data are available. The number of incidents we saw that year were up almost 30% from the previous year, and it was the first time there were more than 200 injuries, which includes things like lifting incidents, collisions, etc., since 2015.
There were also four explosions in 2019, a number we haven’t seen since 2014.
On the other hand, the International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOPG) found in its most recent report that the number of fatalities and injuries decreased for both onshore and offshore exploration and production. The report found 22 incidents leading to 25 deaths over the course of 3 billion hours of work. The prior year, there had been 31 fatalities over a similar number of hours of work. In terms of injuries, the lost time injury rate in 2019 declined to 0.92 injuries per million hours worked vs. 0.99 injuries in 2018.
As Olav Skar, the IOGP safety director, said in a written statement: “Whilst a reduction in the key safety performance indicators measured is always welcome, we are only one major process safety or helicopter incident away from reversing the improving trend. Our work is not done until we reach zero and know we will stay there.”
Truer words were never said, especially when you consider that four of the biggest hydrocarbon-related losses in 2018 and 2019 were added to the list of the 20 largest losses ever recorded, according to Marsh’s 100 Largest Losses in the Hydrocarbon Industry report.
Sphera’s Safety Report, 2021
Sphera’s 2021 Safety Report—which this year includes a new health and safety component to go along with the traditional process safety management/operational risk management (PSM/ORM) focus from the previous five reports—found a gap between safety intent and implementation still persists. While a majority of respondents (75%) said safety is part of the corporate culture, just 40% said they have a well-defined roadmap on how to get there.
Additionally, almost three-quarters of respondents (72%) said they have the necessary asset data in place but they are not able to use that data. Not being able to generate the necessary insights from collected safety data to make better business decisions is like trying to drink from a cup wrapped in cellophane. You might be able to see all the liquid inside, but you won’t be able to quench your thirst until you can remove the barrier preventing you from getting to the substance inside.
What’s Driving Safety Performance?
The Sphera survey revealed that companies in the hazardous industries, such as oil and gas, have different motivations when it comes to safety vs. organizations in nonhazardous industries. Oil and gas and chemical companies put more emphasis on reducing operational and major accident hazard (MAH) risk (73% and 81%, respectively) vs. 60% for all industries. Half (50%) of the respondents who work in government, for instance, said regulatory compliance was the biggest driver.
“It’s really interesting to see what’s driving companies,” said Simon Jones, Sphera’s director of solution consulting for Operational Risk Management. “What we learned from the data is that companies in the high-hazard industry are driven by risk reduction whereas smaller companies, such as in general manufacturing or the corporate sector, are driven by compliance.”
Indeed, when it came to the emphasis organizations’ leadership and board members place on improving safety, only 22% of respondents from smaller organizations with less than 1,000 employees said leadership is driving improved safety initiatives while 52% of respondents from larger organizations said the same.
So what are the greatest challenges to achieving 100% safety critical maintenance and asset integrity inspections? About half (51%) of respondents said limited resources, 43% said conflicting priorities and 31% said limited budgets. Also, about 1 in 10 respondents (12%) said there are no challenges to achieving these goals.
One thing that can be added to that list is that the majority of respondents (68%) said their organizations are still using paper-based systems or spreadsheets, etc., as the primary tool they have at their disposal to identify risk.
As John Crosman, Sphera’s senior process safety consultant explained, if you’re using a paper-based system or even a traditional spreadsheet application, you won’t be able to manage risks the same way. You’ll be relying on lagging indicators, he said, based on events or near-misses that have previously occurred rather than being able to generate predictive and prescriptive insights from the data to help prevent incidents from occurring.
And preventing incidents is what a true safety culture is all about, so if your organization is hearing “crickets” when it comes to incidents taking place—meaning incidents and near-misses are not occurring—well, you’re doing something right.