By Nouran Ashraf
The oil and gas industry is involved in a high-risk business where any error can result in potential damages to the health and safety of its staff, as well as negatively affect the environment. Accordingly, Quality, Health, Safety and Environment (QHSE) Management should be prioritized by any successful oil and gas organization that wants to build a healthy and safe working place for its employees and further protect the environment in which it operates.
QHSE Management is an integrated management system within oil and gas corporations. The integrated management scheme promotes responsible corporate practices and strengthens the idea that accidents can be avoided with the implementation of proper policies, functional management and effective training.
In 2013, the multinational Ernst & Young released a global report entitled “Business Pulse: Exploring the dual perspectives of the top 10 risks and opportunities in 2013 and beyond”, in which it affirmed that health, safety, and environmental concerns were among the top of the oil and gas industry’s risk agenda.
National Gas’ QHSE Manager, François M. Jacob, said to Egypt Oil&Gas that QHSE management remains one of the top priorities in the local, regional and global oil and gas industry, as it helps in reducing the human injuries, unnecessary lawsuits, and environmental accidents. “By prioritizing health and safety, oil and gas companies are effectively communicating that competent employees are valuable resources in the industry,” he added.
Jacob added that improved health and safety standards allow companies to finish their projects with the required quality standards in a timely manner and enables them to improve their business profile. “Following QHSE rules would benefit the industry in enhancing safety levels, bringing uniformity in safety standards across oil and gas companies, minimizing production loss/accidents and optimizing the use of precious oil and gas resources,” he further explained.
Healthy Employees Build Healthy Businesses
The oil and gas manpower is subjected to occupational risks that might cause serious health problems for employees over the short or long term. The American Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) identified eight health hazards that the oil and gas employees can endure, including exposure to hydrogen sulfide during drilling operations, silica exposure during hydraulic fracturing, occupational exposure to noise from heavy equipment, exposure to diesel particulate matter, dangerous chemical exposure, naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM), temperature extremes and fatigue.
The employees exposed to such hazards over a long or short period can suffer from a wide range of health complications including respiratory, brain and nervous system diseases, which accordingly contributes in the fatality rate of the oil and gas employees worldwide.
The role of the QHSE department in oil and gas corporations is to identify the situations in which the staff’s health can be threatened and work on how to prevent their occurrence with the proper tools and management. It includes providing the employees with the right equipment to protect them from harmful exposures, increasing their health awareness, and providing them with the needed medical care in case of emergencies.
QHSE Expert, Mohamed Shirazy, told Egypt Oil&Gas, “QHSE department’s main focus is to ensure that the oil and gas workers and people affected by the operation can return home safely to their families and that everyone is protected from any harmful health hazard.” He further stated that “the oil and gas companies should focus on work-related health risks, such as chemical exposures, and allocate the right tools and resources to prevent such risks from occurring.”
HSE Consultant, Mohamed Darwesh, stated to Egypt Oil&Gas that “the main goals of the QHSE management are clearly headed toward the human, who is the main key to the whole process, where his occupational health and hygiene standards are monitored and measured to ensure that he doesn’t catch any diseases due to his exposure to occupational hazards.”
Creating a Safe Working Environment
Oil and gas personnel work within dangerous working conditions most of the time; such work environment can cause severe injuries to the hard-working labor, which might result in permanent health damages or even death.
Although many corporations are heading towards creating safer working environments for employees and are currently developing ways to minimize the danger they are subjected to, the fatality rate and the work related incidents among oil and gas workers is relatively high in comparison to other industries.
Oil and gas work-related incidents include vehicle collision, machine hazards, fall dangers, fire, and explosion. These incidents mostly occur due to multiple reasons, such as carelessness and recklessness of the workers, misuse of equipment, failure in using the assigned safety equipment, and the lack of appropriate safety training.
The QHSE management focuses on determining why such accidents happen and how to control the hazardous conditions that might allow these accidents to occur in the first place, aiming to achieve “zero incidents” level of performance.
Building safe working environments for employees to work in can be achieved through studying risk management, learning from past incidents, prioritizing safety training, establishing strict safety and health policies and regulations, increasing the number of QHSE employees, and upgrading to newer technologies that promote safer working conditions.
QHSE Oil and Gas Expert, Mohamed Nassar, told Egypt Oil&Gas, “We need to manage health and safety with the same degree of expertise and the same standards as other core business activities in order to control risks and prevent causing harm to people.”
According to Nassar, the main goals of health and safety in the QHSE Management are minimizing the financial losses, which arise from avoidable unplanned events), and recognizing that work-related accidents result from failures in management control and are not necessarily the fault of individual employees. It further tackles understanding that the development of a culture supportive of health and safety is necessary to achieve adequate control over risks, as well as ensuring a systematic approach to the identification of risks and the allocation of resources to control them.
Tackling Environmental Threats
Over the past years, environmental concerns arose from the oil and gas operating business due to the negative impacts it forces on the surrounding environment. Understanding those concerns and seeking solutions to reduce and avoid them is a key role of the QHSE department in any petroleum corporation due to the growing significance of the preservation and protection of the environment in building healthy and sustainable business activities.
The negative impacts of the oil and gas industry on the environment is usually generated from the emissions to the air and the discharges to the sea that happens during the operation. Such impacts cover toxicity, exhaust, acid rain, climate change, volatile organic compounds, and waste oil, which can cause a series of health problems as well as death to human, animal and marine life.
The legal framework enforced by world governments can mitigate environmental risks brought by heavy industries, with the energy sector taking the lion’s share. National Gas’ QHSE Manager, François M. Jacob noted that the QHSE’s department role is to manage oil and gas activities in a way that eliminates or reduces any potential negative environmental impact.
“Protecting the environment can be achieved through working according to the applicable environmental laws, conventions, protocols, and regulations, promoting and maintaining a positive environmental culture,” he explained.
Quality management comprises a combination of quality assurance and control system. It works on ensuring that all the company’s processes and operation services are conducted with the highest level of commitment to the quality standards in order to satisfy the needs of the customers and meet the strategic goals of the oil and gas corporation.
Quality Management focuses on establishing customer-oriented processes, building a continual improvement system, creating effective training programs, promoting employee’s engagement and involvement, and adopting the scientific and technological approaches.
“Quality has to be something that is considered from the very beginning and built into everything a business or organization does. Planning carefully, monitoring work, and constant reevaluation and adjustment are all extremely important,” Jacob said.
As he explained, quality is not catching mistakes before they reach the customer. “You ensure it by setting up a system in which you don’t make the mistakes, to begin with. Everyone in the organization must understand and adopt this point of view if the organization is truly going to have quality performance,” he added.
Strong and Sustainable
Due to the harsh nature of the oil and gas operations, the health and safety of the employees working in the industry might be jeopardized and the surrounding environment can be harmed. Building an effective QHSE Management system within the oil and gas corporation can help in establishing a strong and sustainable business that does not negatively affect the people working on it or the environment. Furthermore, it avoids any legal or financial consequences that could affect production performance.