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Mark Byrd: Oil and gas production needs many safety leaders

The world learned again that oil and gas production carries risks, when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded in April, 2010. A lead safety engineer for Shell speaks about safety strategies, including exposing blind spots.

These podcasts are part of a special series on safety in the oil and gas industry, made possible in part by Shell.

Mark Byrd: In the refining industry that I’m a part of, we handle hazardous hydrocarbons. And these hydrocarbons can be toxic in some cases, and they can be explosive in other cases.

That’s Mark Byrd of Shell. On April 20, 2010, the world learned again that oil and gas production carries risks, when the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig exploded. Byrd – a lead safety engineer for Shell – spoke to us about some safety strategies, including exposing blind spots.

Mark Byrd Once we’ve been at a location for a period of time, and we’re working at the location, we become blind to some of the risks. And you just don’t see it any more. And I call that acquired blindness. And so having a fresh set of eyes come in to take a look, is very important for us to be able to uncover those areas where we’ve become blind.

Byrd said his company wants everyone to be safety leader. He said the best ones have a chronic sense of unease and look for things that might go wrong.

Mark Byrd: A safety leader can be anyone. It’s not just a manager or a supervisor or a vice president of HSE. We expect all of our employees to have their head in the game every single day and looking out for each other, understanding the risk, stopping jobs if they’re unsure whether or not that job is being done safely. And so what I’d like to emphasize is that we expect all of our employees to be safety leaders.

He explained his approaches to safety leadership.

Mark Byrd: The first and most important approach to me is putting on my fire-retardant clothing, and getting out into our manufacturing sites, on the ground seeing for myself and engaging employees directly. Another approach is holding a mirror to the sites, so helping expose blind spots and unsatisfactory situations, and then providing support to the leadership of those sites to address those situations, but also having the courage to escalate issues if needed, to arrest issues before they go wrong.

Our thanks today to Shell – encouraging dialogue on the energy challenge.

Jorge Salazar

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