WORKER FATIGUE IN OIL AND GAS EXTRACTION: HOW SUPERVISORS CAN STOP THIS SILENT KILLER.
Do careless accidents constantly occur on your offshore or onshore rigs? Do members of your crew always seem unmotivated, absent-minded, or slow in responding to situations? Are your productivity levels down? Then workplace fatigue might be a major cause.
In a report on workplace fatigue in the Industrial Psychiatry Journal, Khosro Sadeghniiat-Haghighi and Zohreh Yazdi writes that fatigue not only “influences directly on many people’s physical and mental abilities needed to carry out even simple tasks”, but that it has also been “estimated that fatigued workers in workplaces are costing more than 18 billion dollars a year in the US.”
And that’s in the US alone.
The writers also called fatigued workers “potentially dangerous” and easily irritated. They concluded that fatigue was responsible for the occurrence of some of the most horrible accidents in workplaces. “The world’s worst nuclear power accident occurred at Chernobyl on April 25, 1986, at 1:23 am. The accidents at Three Mile Island, the oil spill from the Exxon Valdez, all occurred between midnight and 6 am. These accidents, along with many transportation accidents on roads, were raised from humans’ fatigue.”
While it is quite tricky to define, many researchers on fatigue agree that it is worse than feeling tired or sleepy and that its common signs include:
- Excessive tiredness or drowsiness.
- Physical, mental, or physiological stress.
- A lack of energy and mental awareness to perform at the required level in its victims.
- Lack of concentration in victims.
- Fatigue can’t be solved with motivation or experience. It can happen to anyone.
- Fatigued workers make more mistakes and can cause serious accidents.
It can happen over a short period, one day; or a long period, weeks and months.
FATIGUE IN OIL AND GAS
Fatigue is a universal problem. It affects every kind of workplace; although there are some sectors that, by the nature of their activities, expose their workers to fatigue.
One of such sectors is oil and gas.
Valerie Jones of Rigzone.com notes eight to nine of the fatigue risk factors published in a special report by the US National Safety Council in 2017. Doing shift work, working during high-risk hours, working on physically or mentally demanding jobs, doing long shifts, working for long weeks, sleep loss, no rest breaks, low rest breaks between shifts and long commutes from residence to the workplace – all these can be found among workers in the oil and gas industry.
“Working in oil and gas construction projects is both challenging and hazardous due to the remote and hostile work environment and the demanding shift work schedules, which often necessitate daily adaptation.” writes Margaret Chan in *The Construction Management and Economics*. “These occupational hazards are often associated with fatigue, and stress-related risk factors and accidents are a possible outcome.”
Already, oil and gas companies that wish to improve their workforce productivity have started to invest in systems and to empower their supervisors to manage fatigue among their employees.
Shell Nigeria is reputed for successfully using a Fatigue Risk Management system to improve its workers’ performance across departments.
WHY FATIGUE IS VERY DANGEROUS
Managing a team of extraction or construction workers are naturally demanding. Supervisors must work to reduce accidents, increase the rate of productivity among workers, and monitor their work progress. They should also design an effective schedule all-around mechanical pressure, noise, long work hours, under any weather condition, around high-risk chemicals and gases and under the risk of unexpectedly extended work hours.
You’ll need to manage fatigue among your team and to personally avoid it too if you want to achieve your goals with lesser hassle.
Here’s what might happen if you don’t:
When working with dangerous equipment, heavy tools, or under a hazardous environment, the most hazardous thing to do is lose your concentration.
But fatigued workers do this all the time. They might even misplace materials, fall asleep, or forget to use safety gear.
Which is why accidents, and terrible ones at that, have long been associated with the oil and gas sector. This is worse when you consider that without human errors, the offshore and onshore work environment would still be a dangerous place to work.
A guide on managing fatigue in the workplace published by the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPICEA) and International Organisation of Oil and Gas Producers backs this up:
“Investigations into some of the worst industrial and environmental accidents of the past 30 years have identified fatigue as a major contributory factor to the incident. In some of these cases, fatigue was not the sole cause. Rather, there was an initial difficulty such as a technical fault. But because the operators were fatigued, they did not manage the situation adequately, and the situation escalated to an accident.”
Margaret Chan also says that “Working in oil and gas construction projects is both challenging and hazardous due to the remote and hostile work environment and the demanding shift work schedules, which often necessitate daily adaptation. These occupational hazards are often associated with fatigue, and stress-related risk factors and accidents are a possible outcome.”
Fatigue kills productivity
This is proven in the article. “U.S. workforce: prevalence and implications for lost productive time” which notes that the majority of lost productive time is caused by a fall in performance rather than worker absenteeism.
Low productivity can cause you headaches by forcing you to work harder to achieve targets that you used to hit easily. It will also endanger your progress in the oil and gas industry as an extraction supervisor.
HOW SUPERVISORS CAN MANAGE FATIGUE
Fatigue is difficult to avoid in the average workplace. Particularly in oil and gas construction or extraction because the factors that cause it are an integral part of the work.
However, experts and stakeholders have been able to develop a flexible strategy to support oil and gas companies in managing fatigue. This strategy is called the Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS)
The Fatigue Risk Management System (FRMS)
A fatigue risk management system helps you to manage fatigue and to reduce it from happening to your workforce by considering the unique challenges in your workplace and your company’s objectives. It is custom-made by experts for your special situation because, as studies have shown, there is no one-size-fits-all solution to fatigue.
FRMS also includes regular risk assessment strategies so that you can identify if progress is being made, and how far.
According to the guide by the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPICEA) and International Organisation of Oil and Gas Producers on managing worker fatigue in the oil and gas industry,
“A clear advantage is that the FRMS approach provides greater operational flexibility, rather than adhering to strict hours-of-work restrictions. It can be designed to accommodate staff and their requirements best; and so is much more flexible, while at the same time more robust at managing the risks from fatigue. Unlike approaches based on compliance with legislation, the FRMS approach considers the work activity and environment and provides a mix of controls, metrics, and KPIs as a means of determining effectiveness.”
- Reassess the time of shifts, lengths, your work environment and its effects on workers, and what the solutions are by consulting with experts on fatigue.
- Encourage senior management to sponsor training programs on fatigue for workers.
- Encourage workers to sleep well and to exercise regularly.
Depending on your organization, you may not have full authority to make these changes.
The smart option is to inform senior management of the need for a fatigue risk management system and to ensure that they support the fight against fatigue with the adequate budget and professional support.
- Chan M. Fatigue: the most critical accident risk in oil and gas construction. Construction Management and Economics. 2011; 29(4): 341-353.
- IPICEA/OGP. Managing fatigue in the workplace: a guide for oil and gas industry supervisors and occupational health practitioners. 2007.
- Ricci JA, Chee E, Lorandeau AL, Berger J. Fatigue in the U.S. workforce: prevalence and implications for lost productive work time. J Occup Environ Med. 2007;49(1):1–10.
- Sadeghniiat-Haghighi K, Yazdi Z. Fatigue management in the workplace. Ind Psychiatry Journal. 2015;24(1):12–7.