ConocoPhillips, Voice, North West Redwater: These oilsands operators are are closing the gap on safety performance

Sterling Rideout is Voice Construction's executive director of HSE. Image: Eugene Uhuad/JWN

Improving the competitiveness of the oilsands industry isn’t just about lowering costs. It’s also about reducing workplace incidents and boosting overall safety.

Alberta is sometimes pointed to as a relatively poor performer when it comes to industrial safety performance, but actually getting down to the numbers is a challenging task.

There are no organizations or governing bodies that track incident rates either nationally or globally, which makes finding comparable statistics quite difficult, says Cody Whitten, upstream projects manager with Imperial Oil and member of the Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA) safety committee.

Many companies and jurisdictions also use different methodologies to collect safety statistics, he says.

“It’s not really possible to get consistent data over a 10–20 year period as there isn’t one collection agency that collects data in Alberta, let alone internationally.”

Within Canada, some companies seek comparisons using Workers’ Compensation Board (WCB) rates, but according to Dave Hagen, vice president of environment and health safety at Chemco and also a COAA safety committee member, even those rates aren’t comparable across the board.

For example, for an injury that requires a worker to miss one day of work, in some provinces the company can cover the worker’s pay for that day so it isn’t recorded as a WCB claim. In certain other provinces, that isn’t allowed, so the numbers will be skewed from province to province.

Recently, COAA has tried to compile comparative safety statistics, working with ISNetworld to gather performance data from its membership and then compile that information to provide an overview of recordable frequency rates over a three-year period.

Whitten says that the report is not yet available to the public, but the indications are that safety performance in the industry has levelled off in Alberta. The numbers also show that Alberta is outperforming the rest of Canada in regards to safety and that COAA member companies fared better than the rest of the construction industry in Canada.

According to COAA interm executive director Larry Staples, the better safety performance numbers by COAA members can be attributed to a number of programs over the years, including its Twice as Safe, Twice as Productive by 2020 campaign. Since its launch, the campaign has seen positive results across the construction industry, reducing all types of incidents and increasing productivity, proving the relationship between the two.

With no international body tracking workplace injury statistics, the only way to get an idea of how Albertan companies are performing is comparing safety data between international companies.

Staples says there was a time when Alberta divisions of multinational companies ranked among the worst compared to their international counterparts. But now, he is hearing that Alberta companies have closed the gap and are now operating much closer to par with their worldwide peers.

One of those companies is ConocoPhillips, whose safety numbers at Alberta operations were once at the bottom of the company. However, in recent years the Alberta operations have dramatically reduced injury rates and are now in much higher standing within the company.

Whitten says that there is an impression within Alberta that other jurisdictions can’t possibly be achieving the safety results that they do, but having worked overseas himself, he thinks those opinions are unjustified.

“A lot of people, if they’ve never been outside of Alberta, think that companies overseas are not reporting the way we have to, because we have such stricter ways of tracking data. That philosophy was unproven in my experience,” he says.

“In Alberta and North America in general, it’s more of a cowboy type of attitude. It gets into the entrepreneurial attitude that many people have with working problems through, but not taking the time to work through problems safely with all considerations. Whereas different cultures around the world where their culture is more hierarchical, people follow the direction provided. If they are told one thing, they will do it and they won’t deviate.”

Three million hours LTI-free: Voice Construction’s “vision card” focuses on positive behaviours

Sterling Rideout is Voice Construction's executive director of HSE. Image: Eugene Uhuad/JWN

Voice Construction has achieved more than three million hours without a lost-time incident, largely thanks to its Voice Vision card program, an initiative recognized by COAA’s Twice as Safe, Twice as Productive by 2020 campaign.

The Voice Vision card is an observation tool used by the company’s supervisors to identify the positive acts that employees are carrying out. Voice has used similar programs in the past, but they focused on pointing out errors and mistakes that employees made. Now, the program is more focused on recognizing and encouraging positive behaviours that happen on the jobsite, according to Sterling Rideout, executive director of HSE.

“We tried to move it away from the negative consequences where you’re out trying to find what everybody is doing wrong. The Voice Vision card is more about what are we doing right out there and how can we improve on that, even though we still preach to our employees if there is something going on out there that’s not right, then there is a proper way to deal with it,” says Rideout.

Any employee can fill out a card to recognize individuals or to suggest changes to procedures. Information from the cards is tracked in a database and weekly trends are graphed and communicated to employees at morning toolbox talks. If an employee has been recognized for their safety or for going above and beyond, they are given safety points.

“It has been very successful. We have only had minor first aids in that period of three million hours and we have some high-risk activities on sites that are very congested. All of our WCB accounts are at the maximum discounts, so that in itself tells you what we are doing,” says Rideout.

The key to success and not having a lost-time accident in nearly four years has been getting the employees to truly buy into the program.

“I think one of the key focuses is getting the employees engaged. This is very difficult and we’ve tried to do this in the industry for many years. But if you can get the employees engaged in the program, and it’s seen more as their program than a supervisor lecturing to them or an HSE professional lecturing to them, I think the results start to speak for themselves,” says Rideout.

In his experience in the industry, Rideout says many workers think of the HSE team as being on an island, separate from the rest of the crew. But at Voice, the HSE and the operations workers are all one team, which has made a huge difference. The commitment to safety has also started at the top with the company’s leadership, a group that is very visible to the company’s employees. He says it isn’t uncommon to have the chief executive officer and chief operating officer visit job sites to get in-depth looks at the projects.

While the company’s total recordable injury frequency rate has been at an impressive 0.49, Rideout still believes there is room for improvement. He also says there are still too many incidents in Alberta and workers in the province still could be safer.

“The industry itself is struggling with HSE. We’ve made it too complicated for the average worker out there. We have so many forms and so many procedures, and so many changes we are throwing at people that it’s just overwhelming at times,” he says. “Almost every second week here there is a fatality in this province with some sort of industry. There are some things we are not doing right and I think we’re at a crossroads where we are going to have to make some significant changes to prevent these things from happening.”

According to Rideout, to get back on track, industry needs to look at the three main components to HSE—job factors such as the complexity of tasks, personal factors such as fatigue management, work loads or physical capabilities, and organizational factors such as front-line leadership or the balance of production versus safety.

“We can have all kinds of programs and procedures. We can post the best practices and we think we’ve done our job, but when you get out at a job site, we have to look at other factors. A person can be capable and qualified one day and the next day, they could be coming to work with a personal problem and not be into their job. We need to take the time to look at that. We have to get back to the basics on what is causing the incidents.”

For ConocoPhillips Canada, making safety personal gives project teams the jolt they need to wake up and pay attention

Craig Dotson, ConocoPhillips Canada's vice-president of capital projects. Image: Joey Podlubny/JWN

For many years, ConocoPhillips Canada’s incident rates were in the bottom quartile of the global company. It was thought that Canadian workers could never match the safety records of other countries around the world. But there has been a complete turnaround and the Canadian division of the company is now its global leader in incident rates.

In 2014, the ConocoPhillips Canada’s total recordable injury frequency was 0.28, a number that fell to 0.08 in 2015. This year to date, it sits at zero. The change has come through a variety of new initiatives and programs, including one campaign recognized by the COAA’s Twice as Safe, Twice as Productive by 2020 called Not Even a Scratch (NEAS).

The goal of NEAS at the company’s Surmont 2 SAGD project is that no matter how minor of a task is being carried out, it should be completed with no bruises, scratches or spills. There should be no injuries and no equipment damage.

Surmont 2, a 118,000-bbl/d expansion to the company’s SAGD operations south of Fort McMurray, started production in September 2015.

“It’s all about the workforce working incident-free and injury-free. The beauty of the Not Even a Scratch program is we do a lot of leading metric collection. Before an incident occurs, we are looking at the leading metrics up to an incident. Instead of evaluating what happened after an incident occurs, we look at what is going to happen and adjust accordingly,” says Craig Dotson, vice-president of capital projects. “If you look at the operation holistically, it gives a sense of importance of working efficiently, safely and productively.”

For example, when Surmont 2 construction started, Dotson says there was a 95 per cent chance that something moving would run into something stationary every day at the site. This used to be called a “property damage” incident, but since those collisions under certain circumstances could crush someone, the name was changed to “potential crush.”

“We realized it didn’t get personal enough. People aren’t concerned about denting a truck, but they would worry about people standing between the truck and getting hurt,” says Dotson. The 95 per cent chance combined with the between 5,000 and 6,000 workers on site meant a real possibility of someone getting hurt.

“It woke the whole organization up. We were able to take it from 95 per cent to 12 per cent in about a month. The craft really bought into it; and when the craft buys into a program, that is what is crucial to our success.”

NEAS has several different campaigns within it, depending on the season and the work being done. For example, in the winter, extra emphasis is put on slips, trips and falls prevention. When employees are working at height, the campaign is focused on Stop the Drop prevention.

“All of these things help us get to zero incidents. We keep refreshing the programs and making them better as we go. Safety is personal at ConocoPhillips. It’s personal to me, it’s personal to everyone that works here and we share that with everyone that works with us,” says Dotson.

Perry Berkenpas, ConocoPhillips Canada’s senior vice-president, oilsands, says NEAS is important for both safety and productively as they are directly linked.

“Programs like this are part of being forward-looking and impactful. Managing safety is not about looking in the rear-view mirror at the number of injuries you’ve had. It’s about the layers of protection you’ve put in place to send people home safely,” Berkenpas says.

“We think of layers of protection as hard hats, gloves, but programs like Twice as Safe, Twice as Productive and NEAS are another type of layer you can put on people to make sure they work safely everyday.”

Berkenpas, who recently moved back to Canada after working with ConocoPhillips abroad, says he was surprised to see how other operations in other countries had world-class standards of safety.

“You look at Canada and there was a point in time where people would say Canada can’t compete in the safety front because we are too ‘cowboy.’ It’s just the way we do things. There was a question, even within our company, about Canada being able to compete. Now when we look at it, we can compete and we can set the standard for how it can be done,” he says.

“It’s still a journey and we can still do better yet. We’re not done and we hope to influence the rest of our peers and help everyone get there because we share a lot of the same people and resources. This is one industry and we have an impact on each other. The needle moving is because we see industry in Alberta starting to get it in a different way than they had before.”

Busing program key to productivity, safety at the Sturgeon Refinery

Karl Hroza, senior vice-president of engineering and construction at NWR. Image: Brock Kryton/JWN

A strong commitment to safety and a number of creative solutions has helped construction at the North West Redwater Partnership (NWR) Sturgeon Refinery keep its injury frequency among the top quartile of all major construction projects around the world.

The project currently has a total recordable injury frequency rate of 0.26, which Karl Hroza, senior vice president engineering and construction, credits to a number of initiatives, including Construction Owners Association of Alberta (COAA) best practices and a commitment to the Twice as Safe, Twice as Productive by 2020 campaign.

A fatality at the site in December 2015—where a 59-year-old worker was hit by and trapped under a bus—has resulted in NWR reinforcing processes and tightening the rules.

“Following the Dec. 9, 2015, accident, NWR reinforced to all personnel on site the need to strictly observe the established safety protocols for pedestrians and vehicles to ensure the safety of personnel walking throughout the project site,” Hroza explains.

“Out of an abundance of caution, NWR also implemented vehicle movement curfews in selected areas of the worksite at certain times throughout the day. NWR’s worksite performance standard of ‘Goal Zero’ for an incident- and injury-free environment remains an integral part of our culture and business requirement.”

The busing program is a key piece of the NWR’s overall safety and productivity strategy. The program offers bus service to thousands of construction workers so they can get to and from the site each day.

“Our busing program is one of our success factors for this project, not only for safety and getting cars off the road, but we also have the boost of allowing the guys to badge in on the bus in the morning. We bus them straight through the gate and down to the change rooms. We are trying to get them into that better mental state, rather than having them getting off the bus, going through the brass alley, wait in line, get back on the bus, driving down to the workfront and getting off the bus again,” says Hroza.

“It’s one of the things we’re tried to do to get them into that mental state to be highly productive.”

One of the biggest factors in the overall low number of incidents at the construction site is the company’s adoption of the COAA’s effective risk tolerance best practice. The document sets out 10 factors of risk tolerance for workers to be aware of. They include overestimating capability, familiarity with a task, seriousness of outcome, confidence in the equipment and role models accepting risk.

“It’s getting into the minds of the workers and trying to drive home the 10 factors that influence their tolerance for risk. Whether it’s them overestimating their capabilities and experiences or how familiar they are with the task, these things can actually increase their tolerance for their risk,” says Hroza.

“We’ve addressed this with over 3,000 people in last few months in lunch rooms and during breaks. We really feel that one of root causes of safety incidents and lack of hazard awareness is the natural higher risk tolerance we see in this workforce.”

Hroza says that workers, who are pre-qualified before going on the job, are also kept focused on looking 30, 60 and 90 days into the future so they are aware of the ever-changing conditions at the site. As construction moves to more elevated work and more jobs in confined spaces, the hazards and risks start to change as well.

“We’re driving them to focus their preventative action plans and preventative measures to change with the site conditions.”

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