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Implementing Safety = f (Quality)

Saying you care about something is meaningless unless you show it with your actions and behavior.  So the next time someone says "we care about safety" or "quality is our focus", do not take it for granted.  The culture on location speaks louder and proves whether they truly believe and practice what they say.

Sitting in the lobby waiting to board the crew ship to take us onboard this particular drillship, I was mentally preparing myself for the days ahead.  The type of questions I would ask the crew as I carry out my inspection; how difficult would it be to navigate the rig politics to obtain the answers I needed; and the condition of the drilling asset under the current situation in our industry.  Moreover, being this the first time I would board an asset owned by this Drilling Contractor, I prepared for the gap between their concept of safety and actual implementation onboard.  

Those of you that are familiar with my writing and my work know that I am a strong advocate that "Safety is a function of Quality", or for the mathematically inclined:  Safety = f (Quality).  You can produce a quality product without being safe, but you cannot have a safe operation without high-quality people, plant and process.  Despite what the corporate slogans say, assets that actually understand this concept and implements it on a daily basis are a dime a dozen.  To my pleasant surprise, this was one of them.

I brushed the initial exchange onboard as them trying too hard to be accommodating and transparent, but over the next few days I quickly realized that integrity, excellence, and camaraderie is embedded in the culture onboard.  Better yet, it is infectious; you would have to try hard not to adopt it.  Each person may have a title, but they do not stick to a departmentalized structure.  Instead, they operate as a cohesive unit assisting their fellow crew members, and if they cannot help you, they can surely point you in the right direction.  

They are not perfect as there is always room for improvement, but they are the closest to perfection as I have seen in my eleven-year career.  When something does not work quite right (whether it is equipment, a procedure, or an individual), the situation is assessed for constructive solutions and instead of delegating tasks people volunteer to help in any way they can.

There is no better way to exemplify this than the team-building event scheduled the day prior to arriving onsite:  cleaning the deck.  Whether they worked in the hull, well control, drilling, electrical, catering, or management, every available person grabbed a mop, a bucket, rags, or whatever cleaning materials that were needed and spent an afternoon together at sea, laughing, chatting, and working in unison.  As the sun rose the next day, when you exited the accommodation block you were greeted to a clean, organized, and well-maintained workplace that inevitably made you feel proud, fortunate, and above all, safe.

The phrases "Safety Culture" and "Quality Culture" may sound cliche, but there is truth to them.  They must work together, and no matter how advanced or targeted your processes and equipment are, your safety performance will never improve unless you build the culture on location and the people adopt it as their own.  This cannot be forced from above; it must be committed to, practiced, and exemplified at all levels.  When you do, you will enjoy some of the benefits they do:  

  1. A committed workforce that takes pride in their work, values the workplace rather than pursue the dollar, and goes above and beyond to work hard and look after each other.

  2. An inherent initiative of continuous improvement that not only understands and implements the policies in place, but builds upon them.

  3. An asset that operates as an integrated system of systems that are each well maintained, reducing the potential for non-productive time (NPT).

  4. An operation where people take ownership of not just their own safety, but the safety of those around them and the preservation of their environment.  

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