Process safety management (PSM) is an essential concern for businesses in the oil and gas sector, where caustic compounds such as hydrogen sulfide ― a byproduct of energy production ― compromises the safety of workers by causing a variety of health problems, from simple eye and nose irritation to chemical asphyxiation, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Oil and gas companies have embraced stringent PSM practices with the understanding that worker safety and operational excellence go hand in hand, according to research from the software provider Petrotechnics. Petrotechnics surveyed dozens of senior leaders in the space and found that more than 60 percent understand the relationship between these two variables and work hard to protect their teams and facilitate success. However, the Petrotechnics study revealed some troubling trends surrounding PSM operations in this dangerous sector.
While study respondents indicated that PSM was of mission-critical importance to oil and gas producers, they also admitted that this functionality was often left out of OE strategies. In fact, 59 percent said this was the case in their respective organizations.
How might oil and gas businesses overcome this seemingly common roadblock? Royal Dutch Shell provided a formalized methodology for merging PSM and operations, according to the Gas Technology Institute. The industry giant, which earned more than $15 billion in 2017, promotes cross-functional operational workflows that include PSM-related maintenance activities such as performance testing and technical evaluation. Shell also trains operational leaders to function with process safety in mind, leading to more effective collaboration between PSM stakeholders and front-line staff.
Safety performance measures
Oil and gas companies, like most modern organizations, leverage key performance indicators to monitor production and pinpoint potential areas of improvement. However, few producers seem to have translated this approach into PSM operations, the Petrotechnics survey showed. More than 60 percent of respondents said their firms did not effectively maintain safety performance metrics. Sure, most oil and gas organizations collect data on fatal accidents and injuries but these measures alone do not lay the groundwork for optimal PSM functionality. Additional key performance indicators are required.
Experts at Aberdeen advised oil and gas companies to adopt finer measurements that gauge the actual impact of everyday PSM workflows, according to Advanced Chemical Engineering Worldwide. For example, measuring turnover in the environmental health and safety or tracking the number of the percentage of prestart reviews that reveal critical PSM problems can result in immensely actionable insights that can catalyze PSM transformation.
PSM cultural improvement
While the oil and gas leaders who participated in the Petrotechnics survey seemed to agree that technical solutions such as those mentioned above might lead to PSM improvement, they also suggested that culture-oriented changes were needed to keep workers safe in environments where harmful chemicals are present. More than 60 percent expressed the desire for these softer fixes designed to facilitate workplace cultures centered on safety. What might these culture-oriented programs look like?
Most feature strong leaders who regularly communicate the importance of safe PSM operations and frame these workflows as revenue generators, according to the Center for Chemical Process Safety. Additionally, these stakeholders empower front-line workers to take part in facilitating safe PSM operations and build sustainable feedback channels for employees who need to report less-than-ideal conditions to their superiors.
Last but certainly not least, effective internal PSM cultures emphasize timely responses so that issues that are identified within the operation are properly addressed, not swept under the rug.
With the significant risk that comes with producing oil and gas, businesses in the industry should carefully consider the results of the Petrotechnics survey and look for ways to protect their workers from the harmful chemicals created during the production process.