Throwback Thursday: TRIF

Originally appeared in Oil Driller (Spring 2008)

Industry’s Double-Edged Sword

By Nancy Jakubic

When it comes to workplace safety, Canada’s drilling and service rig industry have a unique characteristic: these contractors have no qualms about leaving competitive spirit at the door and forging solutions as a cohesive unit. They have been familiar with this manner of doing business for so long – since CAODC was formed in 1949 – that it doesn’t even strike them as unusual to use a collective approach.

The industry, through CAODC, takes an active role in developing, implementing and promoting health and safety initiatives. For instance, the Canadian industry measures and records safety performance with a mechanism the industry developed itself. Total Recordable Incident Frequency – or TRIF – is the standard Canadian contractors use to compile data about incidents that compromise workplace safety.

Yet, despite the industry’s collective efforts, in international circles, Canada is criticized as having the highest incident-frequency numbers in the world. When these conversations take Canadian contractors to task for the high incident frequency TRIF generates, the assumption is made that this can only be reflective of a poor commitment to safety performance.

Indeed Canada’s TRIF does stand higher than incident reporting for rig industries internationally. But is it accurate to assume that Canada’s high incident reporting reflects an industry with a poor commitment to safety performance? This discrepancy is a hot topic in the Canadian energy industry.

A General Picture

Murray Sunstrum, VP Safety Services, Enform, says the good news is that TRIF is a valuable tool. It gives a general picture of the overall performance of a company’s health and safety programs.

“The bad news is that as in any statistical measure, the devil is in the details,” says Sunstrum. “If you’re comparing TRIFs between companies, sectors or industries, or countries for that matter, you want to make sure that you understand the limitations of the data and that the interpretation and the reporting are similar. I’ve heard the phrase that Canada, in terms of safety performance, is the worst in global performance. For most people, that is a shock and elicits an emotional response.”

Safety advocates in the Canadian industry struggle with the negative reaction that TRIF generates. “There is a real challenge in our industry, globally, as to how we report, analyze and interpret data,” says Bruce Jones, President of Stoneham Drilling. “As an industry we are absolutely inconsistent so every time we go into a meeting with a multi-national or we’re in front of CAPP or SEPAC, people are judging how bad we are. But that’s not accurate. We’re not comparing apples to apples.”

Sunstrum agrees: “The challenge in the comparative TRIF issue is to make sure that we have some meaningful data and information on what is causing these differences. There’s somewhat of a stampede to accept the comparators as valid and I have some real discomfort with that.”

Sunstrum sees this as a case of “sizzle and the steak.” The “sizzle” is that Canada may be ranked as much as 10 times worse than anywhere in the world. The “steak” is in the question why?

“What are the factors that play into that ranking?” asks Sunstrum. “I haven’t seen a recent analysis that would allow us to act upon it. Sometimes in the more evangelistic conversations that I’ve heard, it’s ‘You guys in Canada are really, really bad in terms of safety performance.’ My response is, ‘All right, what should we change?’ And that’s when the silence is deafening.”

The first, most striking difference that makes the Canadian TRIF unique in international circles is that it’s a reporting system that includes MVAs (motor vehicle accidents).

“The conversation hasn’t moved to that stage of maturity to say, ‘Let’s tackle this. Do a thorough analysis and find out how real the gap may be. And if so, what can we learn from it?’ ”

This conversation – the one that questions the value of TRIF as the means to compare Canada’s safety performance to safety performance in other jurisdictions – may only be in preliminary stages, but individuals such as Jones and Duane Mather, CEO and President of Nabors Canada, have already put some thought and analysis into the issue.

Like Sunstrum, both believe work needs to be done to give audiences a better understanding of what goes into the Canadian TRIF and what goes into other jurisdictions’ incident reporting systems.

Different Reporting Methods

The first, most striking difference that makes Canada’s TRIF unique in international circles is that TRIF is a reporting system that includes MVAs (motor vehicle accidents). U.S. incident reporting (as an example) does not. This difference generates a significant discrepancy as the upstream industry happens to attract a workforce that loses more people to the highway, in both work and non-work related incidents, than other industries.

MVA issues are particularly poignant in Canadian circles. The Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin is spread across three provinces and parts of the N.W.T. U.S. oil field centres are much closer to home. In the U.S., there are very few camps. In Canada, camp work comprises approximately 70% of activity. The implications of these facts? In the U.S., employees are travelling shorter distances over generally better roads.

Because Canadian rig workers log extensive time on the road, the Canadian industry decided road safety is an important component of safety programs. “That to me is a cultural issue because we preach and preach to drive safely, buckle up, slow down, forget drugs and alcohol and we’re not getting through,” says Mather. “That whole cultural, mental attitude transcends to when they get to the job site.”

The MVA data is vital for a comprehensive picture of safety performance. However, international audiences don’t take into account the Canadian industry’s commitment to provide a more detailed picture. They see only the final number. Recognizing this discrepancy, Jones removed MVA data from Canadian

TRIF and crunched the numbers to see how Canada stacked up once this factor was neutralized.

What did he find? “In Canada, between 1998 to 2005, there were 14.75 deaths per 100,000 workers, excluding motor vehicle accidents. The U.S. had 32.7 deaths per 100,000 workers over the same time period. Our performance is not sub-par.”

Another way in which Canadian TRIF data is not equivalent to the data generated on the international scale has to do with man-hours. Mather ran Nabors’ international operation for two years and has direct insight into what contributes to the differences in the global arena.

“Every international job has far more employees on it on a daily basis than a domestic job in the U.S. or Canada,” Mather notes. “In some [international] locations, we have 60 or 80 people on the payroll every day.” These employees cover a range of occupations on the lease site, everything from on-site security guards to caretaker and maintenance employees working in the area.

An international rig generates a few hundred man-hours because of the increased staff on site. A Canadian rig, with a crew of between six and eight, generates far less man-hours. The smaller crew additionally means Canadian workers are in the red zone (high incident zone) all the time. The larger crews of international operations mean some workers are never anywhere near the red zone.

This difference is notable because incident reporting is presented as occurrences within a number of man-hours. As Mather points out: “Compare having one incident with 60 guys contributing to man-hours versus having one incident where you have 10 guys. It’s a completely different matrix over time.”

The Canadian work environment is a unique rig environment in other ways that similarly impact safety performance indicators.

“In the U.S., the industry works year-round,” says Mather. “In Canada, a huge influx of new employees hit our market every year in the last part of the fourth quarter and the first quarter. When that rig count spikes from 500 in the middle of the fourth quarter to 700 or 750 into Q1, there’s a huge amount of inexperienced or moderately experienced workers who have been away from the industry.”

Mather points out the effect of fall’s ramp up when industry gears up for peak drilling, calling back a workforce from months of time laid off and actively recruiting new employees. A pattern of higher incidents is seen. Another pattern of higher incidents emerges after Christmas break when the mental break, the holiday distraction and the loss of rhythm on the job all contribute to higher incidents for at least a few days.

Mather doesn’t see the inexperience as a huge factor if the leadership and cultural mindset is on target. However, the seasonal nature of the Canadian industry introduces pressure to get things done in a tight time period. Work is done at a frantic pace before spring thaw shuts down the movement of equipment.

Mather sees these factors, which are unique to Canadian operations, combined with inexperience as the real issue. This issue is compounded by changes in the demographics.

In the past, Canada’s rigs drew their workforce from farming and rural communities, places where ‘green hands’ – individuals new to the rigs – would have experiences that would help them catch on to rig work. “A couple of decades ago, many people came from rural communities who were used to being around machinery and working outdoors,” says Mather. “We don’t have that any more, or at least less of it.”

“There’s still a lot of work to do yet in Canada when it comes to health and safety performance,” says Jones. However, Jones believes a high TRIF is a step in the right direction: “Once you identify the risk or the hazard, you can manage it.”

“The bad news is that as in any statistical measure, the devil is in the details.”

A high TRIF number means that drilling and service rig contractors are comprehensive in their incident reporting. It means industry and individual companies have accurate records for improving safety performance.

“I think TRIF, if properly constructed and interpreted, is a valuable measure for employers,” says Sunstrum. “It gives companies a quick grasp on their health and safety performance, and as companies become more mature and sophisticated, they start looking for leading indicators.”

The problem with Canada’s high TRIF is that international audiences interpret it to mean that they are looking at an industry with a weak commitment to safety. Jones thinks these audiences are looking at the wrong data because comprehensive incident reporting is a positive demonstration of an industry’s commitment to work safer.

Says Jones, “There are companies with low ‘recordables’ [incident reporting] yet they have a high severity rate. They are possibly not recognizing the minor incidents which add to a ‘frequency rate.’”

Again, Jones did the analysis to show why Canada’s high TRIF should not be interpreted as poor safety performance. He found a compelling case for the Canadian industry’s success in safety performance by comparing industry fatality statistics.

Jones notes that IADC numbers for 2006 show Canadian land-based drilling had 28,538,689 man-hours and 0 fatalities. U.S. land drilling had three times as many man-hours at 93,840,947 – and 15 fatalities. (These statistics exclude MVAs.)

In terms of severe incidents, the Canadian industry is far from the worst offender. In fact, it achieves a first place showing. “Our total reported incident frequency may be the highest, and this is perceived negatively. But in an IADC program summary for 2006, Canada ranks the best for the ratio of serious incidents (lost time incidents and fatalities) to total reported incidents.”

From this perspective, Canada’s high TRIF is not a reflection of an industry that isn’t striving to work safe. It is a reflection of an industry that isn’t afraid to be brutally honest when assessing where it could work safer.

Jones notes, “The challenge you have when it comes to health and safety is in the metrics. We don’t measure success, we measure failure. We have to get past the belief that reporting is an admission of failure as an industry.”

In the end, Mather brings TRIF back to where it’s most useful, as a measure for a company to determine its own successes internally, day by day.

“What I’m interested in is that if the number today is 2.7, I want it better tomorrow,” says Mather. “We started a job this morning, we’ve done the hazard identifications around what we’re going to execute. If something goes wrong, we learn from that so it doesn’t go wrong the next time. If it goes right, we learn from that, too. That’s all I care about.”