Sunday, November 22, 2009

Safety First

I read an article in the Shreveport Times this morning about the three fatalities  that have occurred at Haynesville Shale well sites this year.  I had two thoughts when I read the article: 1) how my cynicism about corporate safety programs has changed over the years and 2) how the boom-bust oil and gas industry has cost it many experienced workers.

First, the article mentions that the experienced workers and the companies themselves make safety a priority.  Some people might be skeptical when they see "Safety First" emblazoned on the back of a company truck - I used to be.  It took me a long time to realize that in a people-based industry like drilling, safety is money and business is all about money.  Accidents and injuries cost the company money in lost production, higher insurance rates, etc. 

But more importantly, a dedication to safety is a good way to keep the best people, and in a people-based business that is of paramount importance.  The best workers aren't going to work for a company with a culture that fosters a dangerous workplace for long.  They are going to try to work at the company where they will be safe.  I heard a business owner say the other day that one of the best things his company can boast to new hires is that its workers make it home safely at the end of every day.  Clearly not everyone in business values safety the same way.  In this world of budget cuts and balance sheets, safety programs do get trimmed, but clearly it's a bad idea.

Second, the article points out through interviews that there are many inexperienced hands working the rigs in the Haynesville Play.  The article notes that the "gold rush" mentality has brought many workers new to the gas industry to the market and the sheer number of rigs requires lots of workers.  I've heard and read anecdotal evidence that the boom-bust nature of the gas industry over the years has caused many workers to leave the industry for more stable occupations.  The last boom-bust wave cost the industry untold number of experienced workers.  These are the guys who "set the pace" on the job and mentor the younger guys.  Without that wealth of experience, the industry has to depend on fewer experienced workers and lots of inexperienced younger workers.  As the industry ramps up to drill the high pressured, and therefore more dangerous, Haynesville Shale, the dearth of experienced workers will be a problem.

Now that the gas industry is drying up in other places, more experienced workers are migrating to the big shale plays.  Hopefully that will help improve the culture of safety and properly train younger workers who are the future of the industry.  I hate to read about these accidents.  Safety first.

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