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Committing to a safety culture

Published by
World Pipelines,

Dawn Rivera, PipeLine Machinery International, USA, discusses safety’s impact on a successful pipeline project.

Pipeline construction projects around the world have but one goal; a successful completion. Success is influenced by several factors to include quality and productivity, but equally balanced with safety. Ask any contractor and they will tell you that safety is of the highest priority among these processes on a pipeline project because it protects the most important resource they have; their employees. When employees are injured the success of the project is threatened because that part of the process failed. In addition, crew members and their families are affected due to the fact that the project may not finish on time, influencing profitability and, ultimately, whether future projects are awarded.

Figure 1. Regulations and standards provide a blueprint in which to implement and complete projects, and is the foundation for any successful safety programme.

For a successful pipeline project, each member of the project team, from the president to foremen to the crew members that answer to them, must be part of a safety-first mindset that is consistently communicated and implemented at the highest of standards. Safety regulations, equipment, operators and a strong safety culture all contribute to successful completion.

Safety regulations

Regulations and/or standards are necessary as they provide the contractor with blueprints by which to implement and complete projects, providing a foundation to build upon for a successful safety programme. Most of the regulations were born of experience, created due to previous incidents or mitigation efforts. Pipeline spills, explosions and incompetence receive a lot of exposure in the media, and with that comes the opportunity to reach the pipeline industry and show the result of not following safety regulations and standards. Therefore, lessons learned and the story of a fellow pipeliner being injured are powerful motivators to perform tasks safely within the regulations and standards as set forth by regional lawmakers.

Figure 2. A strong safety culture is at the forefront of planning a pipeline project. Leaders must lead in safe behaviour and coach in such a way as to motivate their crew.

Compliance to local safety regulations and standards is mandatory and monitored, so this also motivates contractors to observe them. However, this does not necessarily mean success. As a part of this journey to a successful project, it is vital that safety regulations and standards be communicated, trained on and implemented to provide a safe work atmosphere for all personnel, the environment and property. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail,” states one contractor in the US.

Safe equipment

The equipment utilised on a pipeline construction project is one of the greatest hazards faced in this industry. With this in mind, it is vital that all equipment be utilised in a safe state during operations. Machine safety features, maintenance and inspection programmes, as well as operator awareness, all play a part in this aspect of a safe and successful project.

Equipment manufacturers have implemented safety features over the years to protect the machine, the operator and those who work in the immediate area of the machine. For example, the Cat® PL87 pipelayer comes equipped with a roll over protection structure that provides the operator protection for open or enclosed operator stations. An operator seat belt is also standard, but now works along with the latest innovation in technology, which protects the operator by registering a fault code if the belt is not buckled. Features such as these greatly contribute to the safety of a project, and should be evaluated during the planning process.

Figure 3. Ensuring that the equipment is safe and in working order is essential to the safety of any pipeline project.

Ensuring that all equipment is in safe working order is just as essential. When a machine is not working properly it can adversely affect the entire project and, ultimately, cause very serious damage to both life and property. Keeping the equipment operating safely can be accomplished through inspection and maintenance programmes. Daily walk around inspections and access to maintenance records help to maintain a degree of safety awareness that prevents failure. Operators should be trained on specific equipment and fully understand what is expected of them on a consistent basis.

Operator training

Training equipment operators and holding them to a high standard of qualification and accountability is key to protecting both them and the personnel working in and around the machine on the right-of-way (ROW). Other aspects of the pipeline project will benefit as well from this part of the safety process, to include the quality of the product and protecting the environment.

To accommodate this, the training should be task specific and very detailed. Performing inspections, spotter agreements, tolerance zones, safe operating distances around power lines, in-cab warnings, operating controls and safe operating around personnel on the ground, are just a few of the subjects that play a very important role in operating training. Front line leaders of the project do well to get involved and stand behind the training programme used to ensure their operators are aware of all the dangers and how to mitigate those hazards.

In addition, operators should be trained on every aspect of the equipment they will be operating, both mechanical and operational, for safe use. Fully trained equipment operators must then know the expectations and guidelines for their work task. Competency, knowledge of the equipment and operating experience play a very important role in a safe and successful project site.

Safety culture

A culture can be defined as a set of beliefs, values, attitudes and behaviours. This means a strong safety culture will encompass more than just following regulations, knowing your equipment and being trained to operate it. While these are physical steps one takes to be safe, a strong safety culture contributes to the success of the pipeline project because everyone in the organisation is thinking and behaving, or working, in such a way as to display an observable degree of effort for a safe worksite. This process of taking safety culture to the next level begins with the leaders.

Figure 4. For a successful project, each member in the organisation must be part of a safety first mindset that is consistently communicated and implemented at the highest of standards.

Observe the difference in the way the following scenario is handled. A foreman is short on time and rushes the job safety analysis (JSA), cutting corners and possibly not covering all the hazards. Thus, you can expect that corners will be cut by the crew members throughout the day, leading to unsafe behaviour. However, if the foreman takes his time and explains the JSA to his crew, demonstrating that he supports them when it comes to their safety and that he values them and their lives, the positive effect of safe behaviour will be seen in the attitudes and work ethic of the crew. They will be aware of their expectations and work safe.

Safety culture is at the forefront of planning a pipeline project. From the top executives down, safety has to be a value that contributes to the groundwork of a contractor’s work scope. This means the leaders must lead in safe behaviour and coach in such a way as to get employee buy-in. This top level support shows the contractor’s level of commitment to each crew member that they go home safe every day.

One example of a programme that takes safety to the next level is the Pipeline Safety Leadership Training programme from Caterpillar® Safety Services. This is a new approach to training that focuses on affecting attitudes and behaviours, giving leaders a road map for engaging employees in a system of accountability that results in safe operations. Proven methods for building a culture of safety are explained through scenarios, imagery and testimonials drawn from the environments in which participants work every day. This programme is designed to enhance the safety protocols and culture that already exists with your organisation. Since its release in January 2016, the Pipeline Safety Leadership Training programme has already influenced over a dozen companies to take the lead in exhibiting and mentoring safe behaviour with extraordinary results. Crew members are opening up and talking like never before. One leader reported that when he went back out into the field after a training, he overheard his crew talking about one of the sessions and quoting it to each other. Another leader said that sometimes you get detached from the field, but now with this training programme application, he has gotten back out there and is engaging with employees again and having more conversation, demonstrating that they care about them and their safety. Clearly, a strong safety culture contributes to the success of a pipeline project.

Commitment to safety

Pipeline projects are ever changing and the tools, equipment, materials and work terrain are unforgiving. To have a successful project, a commitment to safety is essential at all levels on the ROW and off. All aspects of safety – adhering to industry regulations and standards, ensuring that the equipment is safe to operate and appropriate for the job, operator training and building a strong safety culture – are essential, and begins with a collaborative effort and commitment at the most senior levels in the organisation. Then the employees must know, understand and support that commitment. Yes, quality and productivity are necessary for success on a pipeline project. Nevertheless, the safety element of that journey to success is the foundation and must be a priority.

This article was first published in World Pipelines. To receive your free copy of the magazine, click here.

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