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How Bibby Offshore keeps the workforce engaged with safety

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

In the current business environment, many people might be distracted about job security and not thinking about safety, said Howard Woodcock, CEO of Bibby Offshore. Here's how his company keeps them engaged.

The most important factor in safety is the behaviour of the workforce, and the workforce should be engaged with safety, and ideally, leading safety, said Howard Woodcock, CEO of Bibby Offshore.

He was speaking at the plenary session of Subsea Expo 2016 in Aberdeen on Feb 5, an event organised by UK trade body Subsea UK.

Bibby Offshore is based in Aberdeen and provides subsea construction and offshore operational and maintenance support. Mr Woodcock started his career as a seafarer, as a deck cadet with Bibby Line, and so perhaps has more understanding of the risks of being offshore than many senior management.

At the moment, 'a lot of people are distracted and worried about job security, [thinking] safety is maybe not that important,' he said.

'We believe further improvement in safety can only be through engagement with the workforce, more walking less talking.'

'Workforce engagement increases when positive behaviour is seen to be the norm. That sounds simple, but we all have a role in this. Senior managers need to establish correct behavioural expectations.'

Incident in 2012

A serious incident in the company in 2012 prompted a lot of thinking into how to get the workforce more engaged on safety.

A diver was working 262 feet underwater when his 'umbilical' line supplying air and heat became severed, leaving him with just an emergency air tank.

It took 38 minutes for colleagues to find him and pull him into a diving bell, by which time he had fallen unconscious. He since made a full recovery.

'We could have just investigated it and shared root cause analysis.
But we decided to use this story to drive workforce engagement,' he said.

Bibby commissioned a professional media company to produce a 44 minute documentary on the incident, with the length of the video similar to the time the diver was underwater.

Bibby provides the video in a large black box, together with a box of tissues, 'because you will feel something emotional,' he said.

Bibby wanted to use the video to build a more emotional connection with its staff, using the power of stories.

Measuring engagement

Bibby embarked on a program to try to measure how its workforce feel about safety. It put together a survey, posing questions like, whether they would feel comfortable challenging senior management.

It took several months to complete the survey, with all crews completing it, collecting 22,000 data points altogether, he said.

Based on the results, the company scored itself on average 'level 3,' meaning that 'workforce is 'routinely engaged with safety effort'.

There is a higher score available, for when the workforce is 'leading' on the safety effort, he said.

The survey found that every single worksite crew was different. 'It gives you specific feedback and information on the areas of engagement,' he said.

Using the information from the survey, the company could develop unique improvement plans for each worksite.

An interesting result was that 'workforce thought that senior management support was poor,' he said.

As an example, consider whether an individual at a worksite really does have the confidence to 'stop the job' on seeing something unsafe.

As a manager, 'everyone says, 'it is ok for you to stop the job,'' he said. 'But the workforce think, 'do they really mean that?''

'[As managers] how well do you understand the way your people feel? Do your people believe your story?'

'We had a discussion with teams onboard and did an improvement action plan,' he said.

As a result, 'our statistics have improved, the feedback has improved, maybe our workforce thinks we listen to them.'

'We reached into our extensive toolbox of initiatives.'

As a result, 'we've changed the way we do things, our divers have changed the way they do things.'

To build confidence that senior management mean what they say, 'I personally speak to everybody who gets injured and discuss what went wrong,' he said. 'You'd be surprised how honest people are.'

'It is not a witch hunt, it is to demonstrate senior management are interested in why people got hurt.'

Bibby Offshore 'spent years and hundreds of thousands of pounds developing the tool,' he said. It is now sharing it with the rest of the oil and gas industry free of charge.

Mr Woodcock chairs the Subsea UK safety leadership forum, where all managing directors share information.

Improving safety 'isn't going to happen on its own,' he said. 'There are lots of tools to help you. Share your experiences and stories internally and externally.'

'If we engage with the people who work for us, we'll quickly start to reap the benefits. That takes leadership.'

Training but no commitment

In a discussion session following the talk, Mr Woodcock said that the industry needed to solve the problem of employers being reluctant to pay for training, if the possibility exists that the staff member might leave for another company, and 'repay that investment to another employer.'

'We have to find a way of getting around that,' he said.

'We have the knowledge and ability to solve all of these problems, it is within our capability. It comes down to the will and commitment of individual companies.'

But 'the action coming out is slow to manifest itself.'

Cost inflation

Mr Woodcock was also asked why he thinks North Sea costs went up so much over 2008 to 2014.

'I blame engineers for a lot of things. But we've been building cost on cost for best part of the decade,' he said.

'We didn't make it stick in the 1980s. What chance do we have now?'

'The common them for me is leadership and engagement. As leaders we have the power I would encourage everybody to think about how they engage.'

Associated Companies
» Bibby Offshore Limited
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