Oil and gas industry can build reputation for safety performance
THE upstream oil and gas industry is a tough working environment. The annual death toll in its employ around the world in the past two years has averaged 100 — but Australian operations have been fatality free and industry chief executives are pledged to keep it that way.
Belinda Robinson, Australian Petroleum Production & Exploration Association chief executive, says a key objective is to build a reputation for the local industry as a global safety leader.
We are very aware that our community licence to operate depends on outstanding health, safety and environmental management,’’ she says.
APPEA reports that 2005 and 2006 were landmark years for the Australian upstream oil and gas industry in safety performance. In 2005 the industry achieved its second-lowest total reportable incident frequency rate and then produced a 27 per cent improvement last year, a record.
Robinson adds that the Australian upstream oil and gas industry’s safety performance compares very favourably with other industries in this country.
Out of 21 domestic business sectors, only the finance and insurance industries had a better safety performance than APPEA members in 2005 and 2006.
Nonetheless, she acknowledges, safety data available from Britain, North America and Norway, where there are safety regimes similar to Australia, show that the industry here can do better.
Overall, around the world there were 84 fatalities in the oil and gas industry in 2005 and 115 in 2006, when there was a 23 per cent increase in hours worked as a result of the world-wide boom in petroleum activity.
‘‘ The Australian performance was the more meritorious,’’ says Robinson, ‘‘ when account is taken of the skills shortage in petroleum workers at a time of rising demand for skilled people and a large increase in the hours worked in the industry.’’
However, chief executives are far from satisfied. Meeting in Perth last month 30 CEOs from exploration, production and contracting businesses pledged to pursue a still stronger improvement in performance.
They set the industry an objective of reducing incidents by 25 per cent a year in the near term, and agreed to adopt as a safety aspiration that they will work together to avoid anyone being harmed.
Robinson says the commitment is made in the knowledge that the industry will continue to struggle with the impacts of the national and global skills shortage, as well as a sharp rise in industry exploration and development activity.
‘‘ With less experienced workers needing to be recruited at a time of high activity, there are significant safety challenges for the industry,’’ she concedes.
‘‘ The situation has been compounded by the large increase in construction projects since 2005 because this is the area where most safety incidents occur.’’ The problem is also exacerbated by the movement of younger people into the oil and gas sector workforce. ‘‘ Young people often seem convinced that they’re invincible,’’ says Robinson, ‘‘ and that makes them vulnerable around heavy machinery. Add inexperience to the mix and it is easy to see why first-year apprentices are often the victims of safety incidents.’’
Part of the solution, she says, is for the industry to a develop a universal national safety induction program, a task now being pursued, — but companies also need to focus on activities specific to their circumstances.
As an example of company activity she cites Woodside Energy’s peer leadership campaign launched at its Karratha gas plant in Western Australia. The site employs 50 apprentices and trainees and has senior apprentices guiding their less experienced colleagues — often straight out of school — in how to avoid hazards.
The scheme, along with other training activities, has seen lost-time incidents cuts to only one in 2002 and none since.
The industry is also working closely with the federal Government, which inaugurated a new safety regime for the sector in 2005, administered through the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority, set up to regulate and promote safety performance.
The establishment of NOPSA is strongly supported by APPEA and its member companies, says Robinson, and they are working cooperatively on a number of safety initiatives. Oil & Gas special report — in today’s paper