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ExxonMobil - using innovation to improve human performance

Friday, November 30, 2018

ExxonMobil is interested in innovative ways to improve human performance, and sees technology as an enabler for that, said Paul Schuberth, Corporate SSH&E Manager, Exxon Mobil Corporation, speaking at a Lloyd's Register event in London.

There is a tendency to think innovation means technology, or 'things we can touch,' he said, rather than think of it in terms of improving human performance.

In human performance, ExxonMobil focusses on quality of leadership.

ExxonMobil's focus areas for health, safety, security and environment cover containment of hydrocarbons (avoiding leaks), reliability of equipment, environmental issues, health, and global security (where it is seeing increased focus), Mr Schuberth said.

The company is clear that biggest concerns are workers on the field site, not in the office. 'It is very rare to have a high severity incident in the office,' he said. So its main focus is on the individuals who use the tools, and the first and second line supervisors.

Technologies of interest

Following this logic, Mr Schuberth sees safety technology ExxonMobil might be looking for in 5 categories.

Enabling field workers, and enabling them to get out of hazardous situations (e.g. drone inspections of flare tips and derricks, confined space areas.

Providing right information at right time to right people - e.g. real time advisors, dashboards, sensor data, so people have information they need when about to do a job. "We are still with tablets for field workers. Wearables are very important, detect if you are fatigued and need a rest".

Predicting outcomes with technology. "We're just starting in this space,' he said. 'Can we look at trends and identify based on historical incidents if this trend will lead to a bigger incident"?

Knowledge and learning - "how can we ensure greater competency for those in the field?' Digital twins and immersive learning might help.

The fifth category is improving ease of use of the technology, he said. Technology for field workers can be cumbersome to use.

'From my perspective we're trying to fail forward and learn quickly. That's not comfortable. But otherwise nobody is going to lead.'

Technologies of interest

ExxonMobil is introducing digital technology in its maintenance turnarounds, when large complex pieces of plant are shut down to do a large amount of different maintenance tasks. The aim is to do as much work as possible during the shutdown, because shutdowns are very expensive. There can be 4,000 people working on one turnaround project.

In a recent turnaround at a facility in Baton Rouge, all of the personnel were provided with RFID tags, and there were tag readers around the plant, enabling people's location to be tracked. So it was possible to check that everybody was in a safe location, and see activities on a large dashboard, so make better decisions.

The company is also developing an app for sharing and learning around safety, which can also provide 'just in time' learning to field personnel on mobile devices. The information can also be provided to contractors.

ExxonMobil is interested in data analytics, in particular if they can identify near misses, which often go unnoticed. A near miss can be considered 'free learning', Mr Schuberth said. It can include near misses on personnel and process safety, and equipment performance and reliability.

ExxonMobil has also trialled the use of fatigue management systems, for operators of large vehicles in Canadian oil sands, where people work a 12 hour day. The computer scans their facial expressions and eyelid blinks, and advise them to get out of the cab of their vehicle if they are getting tired. Some operators have said 'I had no idea I was falling asleep at the wheel,' he said.

Human performance

ExxonMobil is using interesting methods to improve human performance.

To help people understand the difficulties of overcoming bias, it uses technology you would never guess - a trick bicycle, where the handlebar turns anticlockwise and the wheel turns clockwise.

People think it would be a simple matter to train the brain to move the handlebar in the opposite direction to the one you want to turn the wheel, but 'no-one can do more than a foot,' he said. This is a good way to demonstrate that we can't overcome our biases easily either just by trying to compensate for them he said.

The company also wants staff to understand Daniel Kahnemann's idea about fast and slow thinking - fast thinking is instant, slow thinking is more considered. We have to think too much during our working day to do everything with 'slow thinking', and that's fine, but we should also recognise when we need slow thinking, he said.

Injuries often happen in 'fast thinking mode', where we are doing a lot without thinking. One way to break fast thinking is to have interruptions, he said.

ExxonMobil also encourages staff to better understand their decision making styles, and how they compare with others. Most engineers are heavy in analytical thinking, or heavy in the directive side (make a decision and then past it along). Other styles are conceptual (thinking deeper at different approaches), or behavioural, where someone makes a decision intuitively based on what feels right.

The point is that a decision can improve if you bring in someone else with a different decision making style.

Associated Companies
» ExxonMobil
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