by Maggie Hynes

    The Future of Our Safety Industry

    Video games are a favourite past-time for many. Maybe you too have found yourself with a controller in hand, sitting for countless hours as you manoeuvred through difficult challenges to come out unharmed and on top.

    So to appeal to the gamer in many of you, companies are now designing futuristic oil rigs that function, believe it or not, like a video game.  Some rigs within the oil and gas industry, such as Schramm Inc.’s T500XD, can walk from one well to another, rotate 360 degrees, and operate via remote controls. Control rooms are now being designed with copious amounts of touchscreens and joysticks, rather than traditional dials and valves, and just like video games, operate automatically through the touch of a button.

    The oil and gas industry is now facing a monumental shift, switching from employee-run systems to advanced automatic systems. This shift is not happening just for fun, but rather for a much more serious reason – safety. When the world witnessed the BP oil spill disaster on April 20, 2010 many began to question the inherent benefits and risks of oil and gas exploration and production.

    With employee safety top of mind, many companies are exploring a more mechanical way of doing business, as it means less fatigue and fewer injuries for oilfield workers who often work 12-hour shifts. Furthermore, pipe handling and roughnecking can cause considerable risks for work sites. Through a video game-like realm, employees can now handle and connect pipe or tubing by manoeuvring joysticks, leaving the robotic cranes to all the manhandling.

    The shifting times

    As of late, there has been a monumental shift in the safety industry. Now more than ever before, there is stringent attention being paid to what regulators are doing to protect their workers, the public and the environment.  Safety does not just include employee safety, but encompasses environmental safety, process safety, operational safety, and facility integrity as well.

    Many trends beyond these futuristic rigs are impacting the health and safety industry nationally and abroad. A trend that will likely continue is employee reporting of occupational health and safety issues. In many workplaces, employees are expected to complete safety checks and security reports regularly, and many feel empowered to do so. This is a result of a growing corporate culture that values safety in the workplace. Leaders and executives are demonstrating that safety is their superseding priority, and as a result, employees are working safely whether anyone is watching or not, employees are feeling motivated to take action if they notice something unsafe, and they are also feeling encouraged to report potential threats or accidents. When safety is the highest value within a company, a workplace culture ensues that equates to safer working environments.

    To combat on-site employee risks, the topic of age must be addressed. With Canada’s aging population comes a laundry list of employer challenges, from effectively managing chronic health conditions to expanding health and injury prevention programs. In fact, one-third of Canadians have at least one chronic health condition. Correspondingly, many employers are now implementing health prevention programs to help their aging employees stay healthy and maintain productivity at work.

    And what about other challenges, such as employee exhaustion when operating heavy machinery or working in high voltage areas? What if we go beyond futuristic rigs and explore futuristic safety gear? Perhaps gloves will be developed that can measure your pulse, and alert someone who is falling asleep, or a hard hat will be designed with sensors that activate if you are walking too close to a high voltage area. What about safety glasses that detect gas in the air or a pair of steel toed boots that warn if your body temperature is getting too hot or too cold? These ideas may sound farfetched, but with our trending safety culture moving to more automated equipment, it may not be that irrational of an expectation.

    Factors such as human error, stress and fatigue undoubtedly have the ability to cause unsafe working conditions. A shift to more mechanical systems has the potential to greatly reduce workplace injuries. What is most important, however, is that companies value safety and become safety leaders. When an organization establishes and maintains a positive safety culture, its sets performance standards. A safety culture within the workplace will empower workers, and whether they are manoeuvring a joystick or assembling a pipe manually, they will be cognisant of safety hazards and want to take action to prevent lost-time accident and serious injuries.

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