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Booming Business – A Burden on Safety?

Demand can be unpredictable. Production frenzies are frequently a result of external factors, and safety departments are forced to keep up.

Consider Amazon, which experienced a 220 percent profit increase during the pandemic, thanks to an uptick in online retail, sparking mass hiring. On the other hand, during that time, oil price hit an all-time low. Two years later, we’re seeing some of the highest prices ever witnessed in oil and gas history.

Booming business may be good for the bottom line, but while the sales department celebrates, safety can suffer.

The truth is, sudden spikes in demand and productivity can be a headache for safety professionals. For example, Amazon faced a slew of accusations in the media of poor working conditions exacerbated by the pandemic demand.

In the current oil price boom, it’s important not to let safety slip. So, what are the risks and how can technology help mitigate them?

The Struggle to Engage New Staff And Contractors

Often, increased demand means hiring new workers – fast. That can be a problem when your industry is no stranger to skills shortages. In fact, a major offshore oil and gas workers’ survey revealed four in five workers would consider looking for a job in a different industry.

Think that’s bad? Heard of the Great Resignation yet?

When skills shortages are high, and demand is even higher, companies turn to temporary workers and/or contractors.

In fact, between January and October 2020, Amazon hired 100,000 temporary workers and over 500,000 contractors. That was in addition to 420,000 new workers to cope with the demand during the pandemic – no small number of new recruits to train.

As is well known, contractors are subjected to greater risk than regular staff. They are less familiar with rules, regulations and general layout on-site. Add to that getting comfortable with your safety reporting software. If they don’t know how to use it, chances are, they won’t. Gartner reports 60 percent of employees experience frustration with new software.

The result: Lack of engagement and heightened risk means increased pressure on safety personnel. And, often, the existing safety team is expected to do more with the same level of resources.

Increased Pressure on Safety Personnel

Influxes of new, sometimes temporary workers and their increased safety risk undoubtedly adds to the safety team’s plate with more people to train, track and engage. At some point, it becomes unsustainable. When something needs to change, it cannot be safety performance.

Clearly, companies in volatile sectors such as oil and gas need to stay on top of safety, regardless of demand fluctuations. For that to happen, we must utilize the time of safety professionals wisely.

Is the solution hiring more safety staff? Perhaps, but it’s a challenge to find and fund the right people. Fifty-five percent of respondents to the Safety+Health 2022 Job Outlook observed a shortage of qualified OSH professionals and, with the 2021 median pay of a health and safety engineer at $99,040 a year, hiring is an expensive, albeit often necessary, remedy.

In many cases, a more cost-effective option is to invest in technology that enables existing safety personnel to
do more.

Familiar Technology Makes Lives Easier

Historically, the oil and gas sector has benefitted from safety technology. In fact, Verdantix identified that high risk industries (made up of oil and gas, chemical manufacturing and mining) would be responsible for 47 percent, or $1.18 billion, of the total global spending on EHS software by 2026.

With this level of investment, it’s important to maximize value. So, as one way to free up resources, what must safety software be capable of to alleviate some of that booming business pressure?

1. Simplify reporting with IT integration

Notably, the oil and gas industry has succeeded in reducing the number of injuries and fatalities over the years. However, it remains a high-risk industry heavily dependent on workforce engagement, in part due to the remote nature of offshore work.

In an industry with such high-risk activities and equipment, identifying hazards and near-misses is critical in avoiding major incidents from taking place.

However, near-misses and observations frequently go unreported, if workers struggle to use complex forms or must log into an external, unfamiliar web service.

What does this mean? Some close calls will not be investigated, with the potential to become incidents in the future. According to the Heinrich Pyramid, for every 300 near-misses there is one serious incident.

User-friendly safety software empowers workers to take part. Even more so when it’s on a familiar platform like Microsoft 365. Accessible forms on the apps employees use every day, like Teams, can encourage reporting and a sense of ownership all round.

Advantages include:

  • Improved employee engagement
  • Less time spent training new users
  • Utilizing IT investment in Microsoft 365

Safety becomes everyone’s responsibility, lightening the burden on safety staff and promoting a positive culture across the organization.

2. Automate time-consuming repetitive tasks

When resources are spread thinner than usual, prioritization is key. Ideally, for safety professionals, this means less time on admin, and more time on the things that matter.

A study found that 40 percent of workers spent at least a quarter of their work week on repetitive tasks that could be easily automated. Email, data collection and data entry were found to be the biggest time-wasters – things not unfamiliar to the average safety team!

In fact, oil and gas services firm ASCO reported spending 80 percent less time on monthly safety reporting, thanks to using Pro-Sapien and Power BI.

Additionally, 66 percent of those surveyed agreed that task automation could reduce human error.

Indeed, safety software can limit human error and reduce time spent on admin through:

  • Automation of approval processes
  • Timely task assignment
  • Automated notifications and reminders
  • Clearer document management
  • Easier data analysis and KPI tracking

The result? A lot less time in spreadsheets, for one!

By leveraging automation, safety professionals have more time to spend on productive work such as investigations, risk assessments and engaging with employees.

3. Get insights from safety analytics

Treating symptoms rather than causes is time consuming and ineffective.

Hiring sprees can result in more incidents. In fact, workers that have been on the job for less than a month have three times the risk of a lost-time injury than those in the job for over a year. Quickly identifying trends and their underlying causes could expose gaps in training or inadequate safety processes in place posing challenges to the new starts.

Unfortunately, translating raw safety data into actionable insights is not simple.

It is for this reason that business intelligence (BI) has become central to safety performance. A survey conducted by independent analyst Verdantix revealed that 60 percent of EHS respondents were looking to expand their use of analytics.

BI tools like Microsoft Power BI simplify safety analytics for the business user, turning large datasets into insightful reports that safety professionals can easily read. Power BI’s evolution in recent years has been key in making BI accessible to those without an IT background.

Although this doesn’t make every safety manager a BI expert, it does mean that safety departments can go into a report and amend it for their own purposes without the time-consuming need for an intermediary.

A report by Aberdeen Group showed that companies using EHS analytics were proven to have 25 percent lower injury frequency rate and 63 percent lower near-miss rate per 100 employees. Therefore, improving your use of analytics could have a huge positive effect in safety, not just short-term, but for years to come.

Through Highs and Lows, the Need for Safety Remains

As time has shown, the world economy will constantly ebb and flow. Regardless, it is the responsibility of organizations to control the increase in safety risk brought about by meeting increased demand. That means properly equipping the safety team and workers to drive an inclusive safety culture from top to bottom. Only then is safety personnel empowered to push change.

Safety software on Microsoft 365 is just one tool that can be leveraged for this purpose. However, its benefits extend beyond the immediate requirement created by demand. It’s true that its accessibility facilitates adoption across temporary workers and contractors when they are required, but its time-saving abilities continue to support the safety team to stay efficient and productive come boom – or bust.

Globally, EHS budgets rose in the last year due to the broadening of EHS responsibilities brought about by the pandemic and a greater focus on ESG and employee wellbeing. Particularly for safety professionals in oil and gas, this climate may be the perfect time to build a solid case for investment.

Ultimately, safety should remain top of mind through the highs and the lows. The oil and gas industry has demonstrated time and again that technology plays a huge part in protecting its workers. This time, will it be the safety department celebrating?

Build your business case for EHS software. Read our top tips here →

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