The construction industry has a lot to learn from the oil industry when it comes to HSE, risk management and training. Knowledge and attitudes may be the difference between life and death.
Statistics tell a sad story about parts of the Norwegian construction industry. 12 people on an average lose their lives every year in work-related accidents. This is twice as much as the average of all other sectors.
In comparison, the Norwegian oil sector did not have a single fatal accident offshore between 2009 and 2014.
Worst of all is that the trend is going in the wrong direction. The number of fatal accidents in the construction business have increased the last 15 years. Falls from height is the biggest cause of deaths and serious accidents. The main factors: insufficient or inadequate safety measures, weak risk assessment or insufficient training.
So, what can the construction industry learn from the Norwegian oil industry? What do these two have in common?
More than we may think. Both are potentially dangerous workplaces where the consequences of lapse in security routines and training may have fatal consequences. Both are increasingly shift-based, rely heavily on the use of contractors and sub-contractors and have a diversified workforce of different nationalities. Global competition and cost efficiency demands are getting tougher both in oil and construction. And both are among Norway’s most important industries.
But while the construction industry has been ”getting away” with a disturbing track record for years, the oil sector has been scrutinized by the media, the government and public opinion since the beginning of the Norwegian oil age in 1969. The Alexander Kielland disaster in 1980 raised the bar even further.
Regulations have been tough, and the Petroleum Safety Authority has been watching the operators on the continental shelf closely. But equally important have the standards set by the large companies themselves, like Statoil and its sub-contractors, been. They have often been tougher than what is demanded by law.
The knowledge that the consequences of accidents would be dramatic – for welfare, health and environment – has defined the offshore culture. The dominant HSE-philosophy has been that the Norwegian Shelf shall be a leader when it comes to safety, even faced with some of the world’s harshest working environments.
This has resulted in strict routines for training courses, certifications, re-certifications and inspections, as well as follow-up of routines and individual employees. And in low accident numbers.
The construction industry has for several years been haunted by issues of social dumping, unstructured training for work at height and dealing with hazardous chemicals. The statistics speak for themselves.
Short story: the construction industry has a lot to learn. And since safety culture is not part of its DNA, it does not have the same resistance against increasing cost focus and changes following a more complex workforce.
For the industry to fulfil its obligations following the HSE Charter, it needs to dare think differently. And the oil industry is a good and accessible source of inspiration. Traditional classroom training is no longer an adequate solution for a sector with many sub-contractors, large geographical spread and multiple languages. But by replacing or combining classroom training with e-learning, safety training will be easier, more cost efficient and accessible.
Automatic systems for follow-up, control and documentation – Learning Management Systems (LMS) – would enable the sector to document, certify and re-certify its employees and sub-contractors and maintain their competence on a day-to-day basis.
Such learning systems are today few and far between in the construction sector, but should be important facing the future. The oil industry can, in comparison, boast of well-established systems and network where competitors share information about accidents and near-accidents. This should not be hard to achieve in the construction industry, given sufficient will and focus. Issues are already documented as part of the daily HSE-work. Together with a relatively simple technological solution, this information can be published, made searchable and be shared with other companies on all available digital units.
For the benefit of the entire industry as well as the individual employee, technology can structure and distribute knowledge which ultimately can make a difference between life and death.
That is how the oil industry thinks, and that is how the construction industry should think as well.
You can also read a this article in Norwegian in the construction trade magazine Bygg.no here.