Rumaila Oil Field: Improving Operation Safety in Iraq

BP Team Rumaila Oil Field: Improving Operation Safety in Iraq

BP (NYSE:BP) has been at work for over two years in the huge Rumaila oil field – an operation that provides the Iraqi government with around half its revenues. BP is the lead contractor for Rumaila with partners from Iraq’s state-owned South Oil Company (SOC), PetroChina (NYSE: PTR), and the State Oil Marketing Organization (SOMO).

Production volumes have increased and there has also been a major change in safety performance – so much so that the team won the top accolade at BP’s company awards – the Helios Awards.

The Iraq team was chosen from over 1,000 entries as the one that best summed up ‘BP at its best’ by demonstrating the company’s values – safety, respect, excellence, courage and one team.

BP’s health, safety and environment (HSE) manager at Rumaila Melvin Sinquefield explains the background: “For the previous two decades, the number one priority at Rumaila was production - everything else, including safety, was secondary. If something went wrong the operators were expected to get out there and fix it as quickly as they could, without regard for their personal safety. Maintenance wasn’t seen as important either. We were working with facilities and equipment that were in a poor state of repair and so worn out that they presented increased process safety risks.

“As a result, Rumaila’s safety record was poorer than we’d find at other onshore facilities, with not infrequent workplace fatalities, an average of two high potential incidents every month, and personal safety injuries that were all-too commonplace.

“When BP first arrived, people were walking around in flip-flops with no personal protective equipment. Our challenge wasn’t so much changing the culture - that takes years to bring about - it was more about changing immediate behaviours, particularly around control of work.”

Eight golden rules

One of the ways Sinquefield and his team tackled the problem was to introduce one of BP’s operational safety mainstays: the eight golden rules of safety. Introduced at BP in 2000, the golden rules cover the most hazardous types of oilfield activity across eight categories: permit to work, energy isolation, ground disturbance, confined space entry, working at heights, lifting operations, driving safety, and management of change.

Sinquefield knew that the key would be to communicate the golden rules in a way that really stuck in the minds of the Iraqi operators. The solution he came up with was a set of safety conformance checklists for 26 senior leaders from all three of the partner organizations to use in a carefully planned programme of site visits.

The team added a ninth golden rule tailored specifically to Rumaila that reflects one of the legacies of the Gulf Wars: unexploded ordnance. They also added a tenth check to elevate awareness and help protect the Rumaila workforce from process safety incidents.

Armed with the ten cards, leaders from the Rumaila organization aim to visit teams in the field twice each week. Guided by the checklists, the leaders ask questions, request actions and gather information to make improvements.

The leaders’ findings are documented and progress on improvements is closely scrutinized, as Sinquefield explains: “When we find something that needs corrective action we correct it right there on the spot or stop the work until it can be corrected. We identify the key corrective actions and record them on the card.”

Everyone is a leader when it comes to safety

Sinquefield added: “The visits require a bit of effort - we can only go out with a number of security protocols and protections in place. But the expectation is still that we all try and get out there twice a week.”

Although the new system has only been in place since the beginning of 2012, the benefits are already clear. Sinquefield said: “The recordable injury frequency rate has improved by 35% this year over last year. About a quarter of all visits lead to corrective action that prevents people being injured. We recorded 2,000 conversations in 2012 up to October, so that means we’ve prevented 500 potential incidents and quite possible a fatality.”

The problems highlighted by the new system are sometimes straightforward to address. The team noticed that they were seeing a lot of corrective actions related to driving safety. There were around two vehicle accidents per month and a lot of the passengers weren’t wearing seatbelts. So they ran a campaign to encourage leaders to check at security checkpoints that passengers were wearing seatbelts.

Huge improvements

Another example relates to confined space entry - the precautions to take when going into a tank or vessel where space is tight, means of egress is limited, and where there could be a toxic or hazardous atmosphere. There was no process at all around this and there had been some minor incidents, with the potential for something far more serious. So the leaders started focusing people’s attention on it, using the cards to drive the performance expectations. As a result, we have noted huge improvements in conformance with the requirements of the golden rule for confined space entry.

Sinquefield said: “The checklist tool is really pretty simple. The magic is how it’s brought together three different cultures from three operating functions to have a single approach to progress our safety agenda. It’s charged the team and brought everyone together in a really special way.

“And all of that said, even a winning demonstration of teamwork really comes down to leadership commitment. The best teams have the best leaders.”

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