Dateline – December, 2001; location – a drilling rig working somewhere offshore India; incident – “bed bugs on the rig, can’t sleep”.
It’s the sort of incident that doubtless raised a smile on the faces of delegates attending a recent International Association of Drilling Contractors conference on HS & E.
And yet, it’s an issue no less important that ensuring safety on the drill floor or minimising harmful hydrocarbon emissions to the environment. Adequate sleep in fit-for-purpose accommodation, and food to match, is a critical underpinning to better HS & E standards in upstream petroleum.
Dare one say it, but practically every reader of Energy will have experienced driver fatigue behind the wheel of a car or truck, and possibly even been involved in a road accident, or witnessed one.
We slip into a state of mind known as “automatic behaviour syndrome”, apparently. It can happen offshore, too, not least during drilling operations when personnel are often slogging away in immensely tough conditions, even with highly automated drill floors.
It is exactly this sort of everyday risk that was utilised by Guy Lombardo, of Schlumberger, at the IADC’s 2008 HS & E and training conference in Houston to ram home the point that, in a 24/7 industry like upstream petroleum, the human factor is the weakest link and that employers have a responsibility to ensure employees are given the chance of adequate rest.
Whether an individual chooses to do so is the hard part to police, and this is, arguably, the most fundamental human-factors challenge of all.
How do you break a bad habit? How do you persuade people to think and act safely at all times? The willingness to disobey and believe that you know better is deeply burned into all of us – and it starts in childhood.
Try telling a three-year old why it is important to listen to mummy or daddy and to follow simple instructions with their wellbeing in mind.
Anyone who has raised a family must surely recognise this immediately and have experienced such frustrations.
Essentially, attitudes to health and safety, also environment, are formed at home, and this has long been recognised. The writer recalls a Shell initiative in the early-1990s that focused on exactly that.
The objective was to encourage North Sea offshore personnel not to switch off their HS & E radar just because they had come off shift and were heading home for the evening, or longer if on an offshore shift rotation.
Moreover, the idea was that something of North Sea safety consciousness would rub off on family members, too.
And 15 or so years later, Lombardo hit on exactly that same point by saying that part of the recipe for ensuring that spouses working on rig floors (or other petroleum-related plant) got adequate sleep was to “train the family”.
More than ever before, the quest for new oil & gas reserves is a time-means-money game, with day rates for semi-submersibles continuing to set new records, such as Ocean Rig’s Eirik Raude, which is due to go on a three-year contract to Tullow for development drilling offshore Ghana at $637,000 per day.
This, in turn, brings enormous commercial pressures – everyone is expected to deliver top-quartile performance, from the president/CEO to the guys on the drilling floor.
The client oil company will want every bang for its buck that it can get – unsurprisingly.
Lombardo warned at the Houston conference of the danger that man and drilling machine were being driven close to breaking point.
And the evidence in a nutshell?
Mean time between failures for all oilfield equipment is increasing.
Cost of lost rig time is increasing.
Amount of lost rig time is decreasing.
Pace of all rig activities is increasing.
But human beings are the same.