Taking the time to reflect back on the Institute of Ergonomics and Human Factors (IEHF) conference in November titled Human & Organisational factors in the oil, gas and chemical industries - More information here
Jim Wetherby, ex Space Shuttle pilot and now working for BP in the US, made a very interesting observation. After the Deepwater Horizon oil platform was lost, relief wells were drilled. These represented the same technical challenges as the original well, and were carried out by the same companies (Transocean drillers, Haliburton cement) yet were delivered ahead of time without incident. So it is not the case that the organisation could not drill for oil in deep waters. But it is easy to forget how dangerous these activities can be, and this complacency leads to critical items being overlooked and forgotten.
The presentation "Not on my shift" by George Petrie (Petrofac) showed how a focus on avoiding problems can work at the sharp end. This involves giving supervisors real ownership of safety, making them feel personally responsible for what happens when they are in charge.
At a higher level, the presentation from Caroline Sugden (HSL) and Peter Jefferies (ConocoPhillips) illustrated the concept of a high reliability organisation, which is one that manages to maintain almost error-free performance. These organisations have a certain set of characteristics including an 'intelligent wariness' and knowing where the 'edges of the safety envolope' are.
I felt these three presentations really gave us an insight into a future direction for safety management, culture etc. They were in contrast to some of the other presentations that gave a good account of current approaches, which may, in my opinion, be based on too simplistic idea of what really makes the difference between success and an accident.
This was another excellent conference from the Institute, and all presentations were very good. Looking forward to the next in 2012