A collection of more than 120 professionals from post-secondary institutions, mining and oil companies, regulatory bodies and certifying agencies have gathered in St. John’s to discuss safety in industrial operations in harsh environments.
Tuesday morning marked the start of the two-day event, being held at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland.
It is aimed at identifying challenges and new opportunities for research and innovation relating to worker safety.
“At the end of the day, you’re never going to be free of risk ... you have to manage it,” said Ken Dyer, vice-president of Husky Energy, in a keynote address.
Dyer emphasized changing environmental conditions as an important consideration in assessing and managing risks.
Dyer mentioned climate change, saying a change in temperature offshore is a concern in terms of safety, since it can affect anything from how long a protective coating stays on material, to the wear on an entire production system.
In terms of weather, he said, the Newfoundland offshore has been tested, but has not yet faced a perfect storm of conditions — pushing beyond what the installations were designed for.
The floating production vessels like SeaRose and the Hibernia gravity base structure have faced conditions that hit on the “parameters of 100-year storms” in terms of wind and sea states, but have not faced all factors at once in a single, 100-year storm, he said.
Even so, standards and policies have to be considered carefully as the industry presses into new environments — into deeper waters and further north.
“We’re dealing with people and it’s all about people. Once you lose that focus, you’ve lost the game,” he said.
In remote environments, “the situation can quickly devolve from a routine (event) to a crisis,” said Thormod Hope of Statoil Canada, leading off a session titled “Risk assessment and management with scarce information.”
Hope said project leaders have to carefully consider the attitude toward safety of their employees, but also of the attitudes of the contractors they hire — onshore or offshore.
“Using a chainsaw is a dangerous operation and using a chain-saw in a metre of snow is an even more dangerous operation,” Hope said, offering lessons learned by Statoil in bringing down injury numbers in an operation in Northern Alberta.
The company focused on the human factor, he said, adding more training before workers started on the project, providing more opportunity to communicate and act on safety concerns and proactively taking steps to curb unacceptable behaviors, like speeding on ice roads.
He said, considering safety includes looking at human factors, like worker psychology.
Do your lead hands panic in a crisis? Are they short-tempered or easily distracted?
It may not be that you can change a personality, but managers can direct responsibilities and workers may accept training to help create a more comfortable workplace and help them personally handle a crisis.
“The bar is getting higher and I think risk tolerance is getting lower,” said Robert Harris of ExxonMobil, on the offshore safety culture.
The change is coming in part from operators who cannot afford lost time and injured workers; in part from regulators and partly from the public, who want even fewer injuries and fewer lives lost.
Meeting expectations means planning and using predictive modelling to see what happens in the worst-case scenario, recognizing design limitations on equipment and tackling the human factor.
He explained all of that work becomes more difficult in harsh environments, where there is simply less data available.
The workshop is a creation of volunteers from Memorial University of Newfoundland, the Research and Development Corp. of Newfoundland and Labrador and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada.