Training is a key prerequisite for worker empowerment. Workers do not become empowered on their own. Even if a system that enables empowerment has been established, workers need to learn about that system and how to use it. Four presenters spoke about the importance of training and how it can support empowerment in the right environments.
“How do we train? How do we empower? How do we build in safety?” These are questions that the Navy has to ask continually, said Michael Fry, president and chief executive officer (CEO) of Deepwater Subsea LLC, who also worked on submarines for the U.S. Navy for 10 years. The Navy, he noted, has 300,000 people on active duty and 40,000 new recruits entering every year, all of whom need to be trained in the midst of constant change. Fry stated that how the Navy provides training offers lessons for the oil and gas industry.
First, Fry said, everyone gets the same training, and the training is job-specific. He observed that training programs sometimes rest on assumptions that are not necessarily true, including that learners remember what they have been taught, that they will remain motivated to apply what they have learned, and that they have the resources to put their training into practice. Training in the Navy does not rely on these assumptions, he stated, but on carefully designed training experiences and follow-through. He explained that these follow-through activities include
- providing reminders to apply the learning;
- providing relearning opportunities;
- enabling additional learning to improve performance;
- ensuring that learners have the resources and time needed to apply and integrate the learning; and
- providing mentoring to guide continued learning and development.
Compared with the Navy, Fry continued, the offshore oil industry has many different ways of doing things. He noted, for example, that procedures vary from rig to rig and from supervisor to supervisor. Also, he said, the industry does not enforce the need for training, and most workers are not willing to take the time for training if they are not paid for it.
Fry went on to observe that the aviation industry has cited a “dirty dozen” of human factors that contribute to accidents: lack of resources, pressure, lack of assertiveness, stress, lack of awareness, norms or habits, lack of communication, complacency, lack of knowledge, distraction or interruption, lack of teamwork, and fatigue. All of these apply in the offshore industry as well, he asserted. “I’m pressured to rebuild equipment because I don’t have the spares in the warehouse,” he said. “I don’t have the ability to make decisions. . . . We’re in too much of a hurry to get things done well rather than taking two extra seconds.”
Recently, Fry reported, the aviation industry has extended the list of factors to a “filthy fifteen” by adding three more: not admitting limitations, lack of operational integrity, and lack of professionalism. As an example, he
cited not being aware of one’s own physical, cognitive, and technical limitations. “I understand that there’s a point where I need to call somebody else,” he said. “I’m the first person to step up and say, ‘I don’t know the answer to that, let me go find it out for you.’ Unfortunately, a lot of guys offshore are too proud to say, ‘Look, I need help and I don’t understand.’ It’s getting those guys to make that phone call to say, ‘I need some help,’ and not worry about looking like a fool or like they’re incompetent.” All these points are embodied in the idea of professionalism, Fry added, which includes
- working with passion;
- sharing your knowledge;
- using approved parts, materials, and technical data;
- using proper tools;
- being a diligent judge of quality; and
- always following the correct procedures.
Fry concluded by referring to a survey done in the aviation industry that identified the reasons mistakes are made as including boredom, failure to understand instructions, lack of available instructions, doing rushed work, pressure from management to defer work, fatigue, distractions at a critical time, shift changes, poor communication, use of incorrect parts, poor lighting, and unauthorized maintenance. “You can’t cut corners when it comes to safety,” Fry stressed. “In deep water, you can pay me now or pay me later. Either give us the parts that we need to do the work, or the downtime later is going to cost you tenfold.”
Kevin Lacy, CEO of Proactive RT Solutions LLC and president of Drilling Principles LLC, who also had spoken earlier in the workshop (see Chapter 4), presented four statements describing hypothetical behaviors of a CEO:
- The company CEO schedules plant visits four times a year for a full day. He usually makes them as planned, but when business results are below forecast, he has to attend other meetings.
- As part of the visit, he gives a speech in the main meeting room, attends a shift meeting, and walks through the plant wearing full PPE [personal protective equipment]. Sometimes he presents awards for safety or an employee’s effort.
- He always says safety is the company’s first priority and always opens the floor for questions.
- His questions during the plant tour reflect a limited understanding of the plant’s operations, and instead he often asks about uptime and costs.
He then posed several rhetorical questions to the attendees: “Would you call this good leadership? Is it good safety leadership? What’s the difference? What effect do you think this effort has on individual plant employees’ motivation and performance?” Put another way, Lacy continued, if the goal is safe and reliable operations, which leaders and what leadership actions create a culture that is highly unlikely to suffer numerous fatalities and major process safety incidents?
Lacy emphasized what he called a human and organizational factors “algebra,” in which perceived rewards are balanced with perceived costs, including penalties. He identified as among the factors that affect this balance opportunity (e.g., whether the organizational resources are supportive), human capabilities (including individual capabilities and individual tendencies), and human tendencies. Often, he observed, employees do not intervene in dangerous situations for logical reasons. They may not think that their intervention would be effective, or they may think they will incur repercussions. “We, as managers and supervisors, need to know this science because we have to manage high-risk, high-consequence operations,” Lacy said.
The consequences that cause people to do their best occur every day, Lacy continued, noting that peer-to-peer reinforcement and direct supervision provide the strongest consequences. “As long as you’re precise, specific, and consistent,” he said, “those behaviors will start changing immediately. They become reinforcing and self-sustaining.” He cited as one important issue that the supervisor with the necessary expertise may be back in the office and not available, and this expertise may be held by only that person in the company.
Lacy then identified the five Cs of highly effective supervisors: (1) competency, (2) clarity, (3) consistency, (4) courage, and (5) compassion and conscience. If leaders are empowered and well trained, he suggested, front-line workers will be more likely to speak up and stop a job. He acknowledged, however, that providing training can be difficult because neither the contractor nor the market pays for it. Still, he stressed, training is necessary, even if regulations related to training are required in certain areas. In addition, he said, “we have to take lessons from every region and every company in our industry [and] modify and apply them.”
In response to a question, Lacy and several workshop participants discussed the need to assess training programs and methods for doing so. Rhona Flin noted that an extensive science of training assessment exists, and one way to apply this science in the offshore oil industry could be
through academic–industry partnerships. “We need to know if there’s a return on investment,” she said, “which would require pretraining measurements and posttraining measurements. Most often, measurements are taken right after training, but we need to know 6 months and a year later if there is a real difference.” Another possibility, she noted, would be a Gulf of Mexico academy supported by a partnership of companies.
According to Bill Hoyle, retired senior investigator with the U.S. Chemical Safety Board, most safety training in offshore operations, as in other areas, focuses on personal safety, but “you have to figure out what kind of business you are in.” The offshore oil business has to be concerned with low-probability, high-complexity, and high-consequence events, he observed, and “the training needs to reflect that world.” For decades, he continued, the offshore oil industry experienced no major events, and that history bred complacency. “That’s normal,” he said. “When nothing goes wrong very often, that gets interpreted as proof that everything is working great—our programs, our systems, our training.” But he stressed that past success is not a predictor of future success with such events. “That’s one of the lessons from Macondo and other major incidents,” he said.
A major problem with low-frequency, high-consequence events, Hoyle explained, is that they happen so infrequently that it is difficult to gain the knowledge needed to avoid them. He identified looking to other parts of the world as one way to avoid this difficulty. “How many of you have had safety training on the Montara accident in Australia?” he asked. “Two hands, that’s good. But we need more than two hands.”
Another approach, Hoyle continued, is to look to other industries and sectors that work with high-complexity and high-hazard operations. He noted that one such organization is the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), as demonstrated by the accidents involving the space shuttles Columbia and Challenger. In the case of the Challenger, for example, engineers and others had warned about possible problems with the O-rings. But consensus was valued and disagreement was not valued, Hoyle observed. He cited as one outcome of that accident NASA’s creation of what the agency called a differing opinions or different views program. “Training programs can help promote that kind of initiative,” he asserted.
When an audit report says that everything is fine, “that’s a bad report,” Hoyle suggested. “You’re getting no value from that. All kinds of alarms should go off.” He observed that training can help avoid such outcomes by explaining that bad news is a good thing, emphasizing that people need to be trained to “put bad news forward and push it up.”
Hoyle went on to note that training methods for adult workers are very different from those for high school or young college students. Adult workers learn differently, he argued: they bring much more experience to the table; they tend not to learn well from lectures and PowerPoint slides, regardless of how good a speaker is; they tend to learn better if they are working collaboratively in teams on real-world problems; and they learn well from peers and not so well from experts, partly because they already know a great deal about their jobs.
Unfortunately, said Hoyle, the trend in the industry has been toward the opposite kind of training—individual computer-based training. “Those are relatively ineffective methods,” he asserted, “when you compare them with the interactive small-group exercises.” Computerized self-training is cheaper, he acknowledged, but “you have to judge the pros and cons of different delivery methods.”
Andrew Imada, macroergonomics consultant with A.S. Imada & Associates, began by observing that safety outcomes, including accidents and injuries, are a product of safety performance, which can take the form of both compliance performance and voluntary safety participation. Compliance performance and safety participation are in turn products of employee motivation and safety knowledge, he continued, both of which can be improved. He cited one meta-analysis that looked at these proximal person-related factors in terms of distal situation-related factors and distal person-related factors.1 Examining more than 90 studies on safety and safety performance, it found a strong relationship between safety knowledge and safety performance, Imada reported, which “is really good news, because otherwise we shouldn’t be having this session.” “By giving people knowledge about safety,” he argued, “we can improve safety performance and reduce the number of events that we have.”
According to Imada, the meta-analysis also found a strong relationship between organizational safety climate and leadership and voluntary safety performance, and voluntary performance is at the heart of empowerment. “What empowerment is about is that people step beyond what they are supposed to do,” he explained. “They say, ‘Wait, I can do this,’ or ‘What about this?’” Thus, he said, empowerment requires a commitment to a safety climate that goes beyond compliance.
Imada also discussed the effects of “voice” on the effectiveness of train-
1 Christian, M.S., Bradley, J.C., Wallace, J.C., and Burke, M.J. (2009). Workplace safety: A meta-analysis of the roles of person and situation factors. Journal of Applied Psychology, 94(5), 1103–1127.
ing. The prohibitive voice, he said, expresses concern about existing or impending practices, accidents, or behavior that may harm the organization: “It says, ‘If you do not do this, you will be breaking company policy, or, If you do this, you could get hurt.’” He identified as a second kind of voice the promotive voice, which expresses ideas or suggestions for improving the current functioning of a work unit or organization. He characterized this as a positive voice that emphasizes how an action or behavior can benefit a worker. It relates safety to goals that are important to a worker rather than the company. It focuses less on compliance with rules and more on concern for the worker’s health.
Imada continued by stating that use of the promotive voice requires careful observation to see behaviors that are more and less safe. It then relies on positive reinforcement and coaching to change behavior. According to Imada, such an approach raises awareness about the consequences of a behavior, secures a commitment to safety, and supports the actions and behaviors needed to remain safe. He identified having safety meetings run by employees, not by trainers, as a good way to reinforce use of the promotive voice.
Imada closed by citing employees actively involved in or running safety meetings as an example of employee participation and empowerment, illustrating a possible level of engagement that is realized through training and empowerment. This is what is possible, he said, with a positive climate, leadership, and the self-reinforcing promotive voice. “That is employee empowerment,” he concluded.
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