As oil and gas activity marches along at double time, the industry must remain vigilant to ensure accidents, injuries and fatalities won't rain on the parade, safety officials say.
Paul Schoenhals, president and CEO of Enform - a newly minted safety organization formed when the Petroleum Industry Training Service (PITS) and the Canadian Petroleum Safety Council (CPSC) merged - says record activity levels in the 'patch are forcing the industry to take safety even more seriously than any time in the past.
He says there is overwhelming evidence that the majority of injuries happen to workers in their first six months on the job, what he calls a "greenhand" issue, which means the training of inexperienced employees has become paramount.
"I think it's obvious that the industry takes (safety) seriously - in terms of health, one's life and how it impacts the family - but there's also a bottom-line impact that companies are well aware of," says Schoenhals.
|Larry MacDougal, Business Edge|
|Enform president and CEO Paul Schoenhals says highway safety and drug and alcohol testing are key safety issues.|
"And it's not just the safety officials in the companies - I think they got the attention of the CEOs now, and they're driving it down from there."
According to Alberta government statistics, the total number of lost-time claims in the upstream petroleum industry fell in 2004 to 1,402 from 1,568 the year prior.
Like its predecessors, Enform operates as a non-profit organization that is owned, directed and partially funded by six industry trade associations: The Canadian Association of Geophysical Contractors (CAGC), Canadian Association of Oilwell Drilling Contractors (CAODC), Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP), Canadian Energy Pipeline Association (CEPA), Petroleum Services Association of Canada (PSAC), and the Small Explorers and Producers Association of Canada (SEPAC).
Oilfield safety rose to the forefront during the 1980s when industry and government became concerned by spikes in injuries and fatalities.
Alarmed by this increase, the oil and gas associations formed the Upstream Petroleum Industry Task Force on Safety (UPITFOS), which in 1987 released a report with 42 recommendations to improve safety.
"What we observed is, after UPITFOS, we made remarkable strides in reducing our lost-time accident frequency. We got it down to a fifth of what the rate was in 1988," says Don Herring, president and CEO of the CAODC.
"What's happened since is we've kind of hit a plateau ... and what we're looking for next is what would you have to do to get this curve down to the next step ... and we feel Enform will be a valuable tool to help us work on that."
Enform says the merger enhances communication of messages on training and safety, reduces confusion, provides greater efficiencies and effectiveness, and ensures better accountability, responsiveness and involvement.
In 2004 under PITS, a record 131,000 students were trained in 85 different programs. Wayne Wetmore, senior vice-president of training, says that as of November 2005, the organization had already reached that plateau, and he expects that by yearend the figure would have punched its way through the 140,000 mark.
Wetmore expects the trend to continue in 2006.
"Unless there's a slowdown in the industry - which doesn't appear to be the case - there's no reason to think the 2006 number won't be as good as 2005, if not better. We're budgeting for around the same number in 2006, and it could be even more than (last year)," he says.
The organization has training centres in Calgary, which has seven classrooms and a computer lab, and at Nisku, which boasts two operational drilling rigs, a service rig, a well control facility, oil and gas production facilities, and rescue training facilities.
In addition, the non-profit organization operates a high-vapour pressure products release ignition training facility at Genesee, west of Edmonton.
Around 70 per cent of students received their training via the "franchise" program, where independent safety consultants and other safety professionals deliver the courses anywhere across Canada and around the world.
Wetmore says this system is key to expanding Enform's reach. Computer-based training methods, such as CDs, have been used during the past few years and will continue to grow in importance in 2006 and beyond.
On the safety promotion side, Enform works to advise the upstream petroleum sector on industry-recommended practices and issues alerts on emerging trends in breaches in health and safety in the workplace.
Schoenhals says that two safety issues are gaining increasing industry attention, namely highway safety and drug and alcohol testing. Enform and its six member associations have struck a task force with the aim of drafting a drug and alcohol policy that all branches of the oilpatch will find acceptable.
The organization's president notes the issue of drugs and alcohol is important to all aspects of the industry, but especially in the drilling and service side, because "there you can cause a lot of problems for a lot of people besides yourself.
"The fact that the industry is taking this very seriously and developing this drug and alcohol policy is important - it demonstrates they feel it's an issue and it's something we'd like to see done in 2006."
Murray Sunstrum, vice-president of safety for Enform, says it will also focus on reducing driving-related accidents, the most common way oilfield workers injure themselves on the job.
"It's a little-known fact that the main cause of fatalities in our industry is driving," Sunstrum says, noting that roadway accidents on average account for 40 to 60 per cent of industry fatalities. "That doesn't make for sexy newspaper headlines, but it's a simple fact that in our industry it's not about big explosions or pipelines blowing up, it's about fatalities while people are driving."
Alberta government statistics reveal that to the end of October 2005, four oilfield workers died as a result of car accidents, versus two for all of 2004.
(John Ludwick can be reached at email@example.com)