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To avert human errors, the oil & gas industry needs better learning and procedure management

Author : Peter Wilson, Hexagon

11 July 2023

For decades, the oil and gas industry has prioritised investments in technologies aimed at enhancing equipment availability, efficiencies, and capacities. Yet, there has been a noticeable lack of investment dedicated to improving human performance and retaining knowledge, a gap that has resulted in costly consequences.

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock

Recent studies show that human errors are a factor in as many as 70% of incidents in the industry. In addition, a 2020 research paper found that the typical remedial actions oil & gas companies take after an incident – disciplinary action, revision of procedures, or additional training – are notably ineffective in improving safety.

So, how can companies mitigate these human errors? While multiple factors come into play, learning and procedure management inadequacies warrant central focus.

The pitfalls of current knowledge management systems

In many companies, whether training is performed online or in the classroom, it is often far removed from its actual application setting. In an industry where many employees are overworked, it is often perceived as something that gets in the way, or merely a box to tick. High staff turnover further complicates the situation, as employees and contractors trained today may not be the ones executing the job in six months.

Traditional procedure management also falls short. Factors like undocumented changes to manual errors often lead to substantial gaps between the "work-as-prescribed" procedures and the actual work executed in the field. Experienced workers might know that procedures need adaptation or bypassing in certain scenarios, but this knowledge often goes uncaptured.

As a result, companies often find themselves with massive quantities of content plagued by an unknown quantity of errors, is partly out of date or unworkable, and cannot be easily revised or repurposed.

This is where a modern Component Content Management System (CCMS) can make a meaningful impact.

The benefits of a CCMS

Peter Wilson, Hexagon
Peter Wilson, Hexagon

By authoring a smaller amount of content in a controlled manner and reducing the likelihood of common errors, a CCMS contributes to enhanced accuracy, standardisation, and safety associated with the content.

When implemented, the first result is a drastic reduction in the number of procedures. For example, a large US Oil and Gas company that used a CCMS found that it could achieve a 38% reduction in its number of procedures, making 88% of the statements they contained re-usable, and thus divide by six the total number of statements. Consequence: procedures that are easier to review and revise by experts, and to access by end-users.

Having fewer procedures in a single repository also drives significant gains in quality and efficiency. When it comes to maintenance, work can be completed faster and with fewer mistakes. Faster allows more work to be done so fewer contractors are needed. And fewer mistakes means fewer reworks overall.

Secondly, a modern CCMS makes it much easier to find the right information on the spot, using mobile devices: information is tagged with metadata and indexed so that field workers can simply search by equipment name, equipment ID, or task. And, when they access procedures, mobile devices can provide information and context that can be critical for worker safety, something that isn’t available when using paper-based procedures.

And mobile devices are not only a way to consume information, but also to create it. A CMMS can track any interaction with a piece of content and workers can help annotate, revise or enrich it – thus closing the gap between “work-as-prescribed” and “work-as-done”. This means that companies do not have to learn from the rare occurrence of failures – they can learn from the daily occurrence of normal work.

The importance of the topic cannot be overstated. Even without disastrous outcomes, procedural deficiencies in the oil and gas industry can lead to lost opportunities worth hundreds of millions of dollars. And, amid economic uncertainty, the need to invest in solutions that make connected workers safer and more effective is greater than ever.

About the author:

Peter Wilson is Senior Industry Consultant in the Asset Lifecycle Intelligence Division of Hexagon, a developer of digital reality solutions, combining sensor, software and autonomous technologies.

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