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Health and Safety Challenges in the Oil and Gas Industry

Health and Safety Challenges in the Oil and Gas Industry

How industry leaders are leveraging innovation in technology to safeguard their infrastructure and personnel.

The oil and gas industry today faces an increasingly challenging landscape. Professionals in this field are seeing emerging technologies, new regulations, a changing global infrastructure, and more complex facilities.

There is much at stake here: massive numbers of employees, contractors, shipping equipment and machinery must function together to work with highly volatile substances in large quantities. Safety, coordination, and communication are paramount.

Industry leaders named their top challenges as relating to infrastructure and personnel safety, which enables business as usual. We'll take a look at some of these challenges, as CIOs, managers and security professionals see them. We'll also take a look at the trends in the field that forward-thinking leaders use to overcome these health and safety challenges.

Complex Challenges in a Complex Industry

Oil and gas leaders are likely to experience challenges in the following areas:

Downtime – Oil refineries can cost upwards of $8 billion to construct. That means that once a plant is up and running, all stakeholders need things to truly be up and running. The consequences of downtime are dire. One Gartner study pinpointed the cost of a single hour of downtime at a petrochemical plant to be $700,000. In the energy industry, that number increases to $2.8 million. Disturbances immediately impact safety and production processes.

High-Volume Traffic – On any given day in a plant, the following parties are likely to pass through: contractors, vendors, repair teams, inspectors, leadership representatives, shipping personnel, administrative teams, safety personnel and other full-time employees. Plants bear the responsibility for the safety of any authorized persons on the premises. Intricate health and safety responses are required for such a diverse and high-volume traffic flow.  

Setting and Sticking to Standards – According to an ISHN survey from January 2017, 61% of oil and gas and utility/energy professionals experience issues with employee safety-related discipline. Setting safety protocols and ensuring their implementation at scale can be time-consuming and resource-intensive. In addition, it requires proper levels of communication and collaboration across multiple departments. A lapse in communication can be costly and, at worst, deadly.

Emergency Response – In an ideal world, nothing would ever go wrong. In the much more likely scenario of an accident or irregularity, plants must have their emergency response measures honed and ready to deploy at a moment's notice. An almost unthinkable amount of planning goes into emergency preparedness, including accounting for: hazardous materials spills, storms, floods, hurricanes, lightning, earthquakes, explosions, shipping accidents, chemical releases, gas releases, toxic runoff, equipment malfunction, leaks, safety breaches and intrusions. In addition to the plenty of other things that could potentially go wrong in the course of a workweek. Management teams must try to account for all possible future disaster scenarios, and implement strict protocols for what to do when the time comes.

Meeting Compliance Standards – Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is needed for all high-risk oil, gas and energy jobs, and that includes meeting the PPE compliance standards set by the industry. Between arm and hand injuries, eye and face injuries, working at heights, slips and falls, lockouts, noise and extreme temperatures, following PPE protocols and supplying the proper protection is essential. Setting up a process for communicating material shortages and ensuring worker safety must never fall by the wayside.

Technical Shortcomings – When an irregularity occurs or a message must be escalated, there are technical limitations that create safety problems. Further, there is always a learning curve when adapting to new technology, especially when temporary workers and contractors cycle out of their roles, taking institutional knowledge with them. For example, more than 56% of respondents to ISHN's 2017 survey noted that one of their top challenges related to "making new technology work for safety and health applications."

Trends in the Field

Managers and leaders are tackling head-on the challenges presented by current industry conditions. From systems and infrastructure updates to communications and network fine-tuning, innovation is occurring across the board, at scale.

First and foremost, systems and infrastructure upgrades are being implemented globally by oil, gas, and energy leaders and organizations. Personnel safety starts here, at the foundation of the operation. From meeting federal mandates to accounting for personnel and providing status reports, systems like BlackBerry AtHoc help to overcome safety challenges, as quickly and efficiently as possible. Systems and infrastructure upgrades can provide:

  • Better integration across teams and buildings
  • Faster communication between personnel and leadership
  • Real-time alerts to monitor potential issues
  • A greater operational resiliency

BlackBerry AtHoc Product Workflow

Another way that leaders are responding to challenges is by broader communication networks. Industrial facilities are recognizing that emergency response goes beyond a plant itself. Surrounding areas can be impacted by explosions, leaks, contaminations and other unexpected occurrences. Coordination with outside responders is crucial for the safety of not just the plant but the surrounding areas. Rapid assistance, as soon as possible, is more likely from a reliable and timely communications system.

Eastman Chemical achieved this improvement firsthand when they implemented BlackBerry AtHoc's networked crisis communications suite. By implementing a site-wide alert system, they were able to provide mass and targeted notifications to 6,500 employees and 3,000 contractors through multiple redundant devices. Quickly, they were able to get all stakeholders in the facility on the same page about a variety of safety concerns.

Leaders are also using message escalation systems and technology to meet the rising challenges of health and safety. A proper message escalation system can ensure that key staff members are notified in times of crisis, and that alerts will indicate accurate information to a large number of people. Specific skillsets and personnel are needed for different types of emergencies. Message escalation that works will notify these individuals and mitigate problems effectively.

Leaders and organizations are also employing increased reliance on emerging technologies. ISHN survey respondents noted a willingness to explore the use of smartphone technology, email, tracking and radio technology to communicate, collect data and coordinate across personnel and buildings. Innovative leaders are recognizing the ability of technology to disrupt laborious manual processes, and save money, time and labor. Technology systems are used with increasing frequency across many areas. Useful networked crisis communication suites like BlackBerry AtHoc can provide:

  • Real-time visibility into personnel location and status
  • Real-time situational awareness via geo-tagged reports
  • End-to end emergency notification that unifies communication modalities
  • Outbound collaboration capabilities
  • Resource-sharing and cooperative response
  • Data backup should central operations be rendered damaged or unavailable

A Smarter Approach

While the world has changed, leaders and workers are changing along with it, through crisis management capabilities tailored to commercial and industrial professionals. From critical real-time messaging to situation containment and safety protocol deployment, it has never been more feasible to create a crisis communication network. Though the solutions are complex, the action can be simple - from any device, users can activate protocols that will respond to specific target audiences, determining status and operational readiness.

Good safety is good business. With BlackBerry AtHoc's networked crisis communications suite, you can ensure that no stone is left unturned in the face of an emergency. With integrated solutions for interaction, safety and continuity, industry professionals can be more optimistic about meeting the challenges presented by today's increasingly complex world. When a situation doesn't go according to plan, leaders can be prepared for rapid and effective disaster mitigation.

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