Human Factors in Deepwater Drilling - A New Approach to Safety and Operational Excellence

University essay from Lunds universitet/Avdelningen för Riskhantering och Samhällssäkerhet

Abstract: Deepwater drilling operates high hazardous and complex systems. Technological and operational complexities, harsh environmental conditions, geological uncertainties, and high-pressure flammable fluids are some of the critical factors that pose clear threats towards safe operations and may result in high consequence events, as the Macondo blowout in 2010. The continuous demand for oil and gas pushes the Oil & Gas industry to explore offshore oil and gas reserves into ever-deeper waters. Indeed, the advances in technologies allow offshore drilling to go into increasingly deeper and farther offshore sites. And each step into deeper waters posed new challenges with increasing danger and complexity. Such complexity requires the oil worker a great deal of adaption and skilled human intervention to keep drilling operations running efficiently and safely. However, indications show that even after Macondo, the Oil & Gas industry still believes that safe behavior programs are the best approach to safety, inhibiting workers to locally adapt to normal variability and close the gap between the work as imagined and the work as done. For the industry, such adaptations are not only unacceptable but also equal to violations subjected to disciplinary measures. Therefore, meaningful safety interventions are designed to control the behavior of people at the front-line through rigid compliance with rules and regulations. Likewise, safety performance is measured by the number of incidents, mainly personal accidents (e.g., injury rates), since the industry believes that preventing minor high-frequency incidents will also predict and prevent major catastrophic events. A discrepancy that might be not perceived by the Oil & Gas organizations and may undermine industry efforts to improve safety and operational performance. The Macondo disaster in 2010 would be expected to act as a wakeup call to the Oil & Gas industry towards a different approach to safety. However, as the empirical data collected by this research suggests, despite its unprecedented magnitude, no fundamental change was observed in the wave of the disaster, as it happened with other high-hazardous industries, which quickly realized the importance of utilizing human factors studies and systems approach to mitigate similar accidents. Indeed, most of the post-Macondo initiatives were limited at improving technical specifications and operational procedures for blowout preventers and capping systems, as well as the development of more stringent regulations. Therefore, this research was proposed to investigate the safety models and paradigms influencing the current Oil & Gas organizations’ approach to safety through the perceptions of its leaders about a recent growing movement discussing the importance of a human factors approach to improving safety in the highly complex systems the industry operates. Furthermore, empirical data collected throughout this work have confirmed relevant theoretical assumptions from the perspective of the Oil & Gas industry. For instance, pieces of evidence showing the effects of safety as bureaucratic accountability and its consequences were widely observed across the organizations taking part in this research. Recently, a movement aimed at different approaches to safety is gaining momentum across the industry, mainly driven by Oil & Gas professional associations. However, there is yet an overwhelming predominance of a behavior-based safety approach within the Oil & Gas organizations, confirming the mismatch with the inherent complexity in deepwater drilling. Among the potential reasons for such disconnection, this research identified the hegemony of an Old View thinking, mainly promoted by a powerful safety industry telling Oil & Gas leaders that meaningful safety interventions must target the control of human behavior to prevent accidents. In its conclusion, this work recommends the implementation of industrywide programs to demystify the New View of human factors among the Oil & Gas organizations and the adoption of further measures to raise the awareness for the importance of the integration of human factors to the processes and operational practices in deepwater drilling.

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