When Desiderius Erasmus uttered those words over 500 years ago, the Oil and Gas sector was beyond the imagination of philosophers from the Middle Ages; but this was probably the first instance of where the Dutch established ideas which were to shape today’s industry and in particular HSE. Since assuming the chair of the IADC SE Asia committee on HSE, I have been struck by our industry’s commitment to improving its image and reputation, with respect to safety. Yet I believe we can achieve more by focusing upon and addressing prevention issues in a truly coherent and holistic manner.

How is this achieved at this time of crisis for the industry when the $ is always king and the supply chain’s prime concern is achieving ever greater Value for Money / Something for nothing? I believe, simply that it is in no-ones interest to try and compete with the cheapest competitors but instead to use our safety record as a Selling Point. The cost of an accident, an incident or near miss has escalated at a time of depressed profitability and lower margins. Because there is no shortage of regulated competition, post DWH tolerance of short cuts is at an all-time low and regulations are providing a compulsory safety over-sight; no-one, be they Oil Major, Drilling Contractor or Third Party can afford the operational, financial and reputational consequences of such occurrences. In the remainder of this article I will articulate how I believe we can establish the focus on prevention rather than cure. The first step is to become a High Reliability Organisation (HRO). Or in lay-man terms:

“An Organisation which has succeeded in systematically avoiding catastrophes and minimizing accidents in an environment where normally accidents can be expected due to risk factors and operational complexity.”

As OES have found, this transition is a cultural shift which transcends all areas of our business and to achieve this revolution we had to look to the following 6 points:


Managers and Inspectors need to be constantly aware of how processes and systems affect the Organisation. In High Reliability Organisations, each employee pays close attention to operations and maintains awareness as to what is or isn’t working. There are no assumptions. This focus on processes leads to observations which inform corporate decision-making, avoid assumptions and spawn new operational initiatives.

Broad-brush excuses and explanations can be attractive when safety processes don’t work well. But High Reliability Organisations resist simplifications. While it is beneficial to simplify work processes, High Reliability Organisations recognize the risks of painting with broad strokes and failing to dig deeply enough to find the real source of a particular problem. They identify potential reasons for poor performance until they find the specific source of the problem. 

Every employee at every level in a High Reliability Organisation is encouraged to think of ways their work processes might break down. This sense of shared attentiveness is ever-present because it is applicable to small inefficiencies and major failures. Employees are encouraged to share their concerns for potential failures, which de-stigmatises failure.

Leaders at High Reliability Organisations listen to people who have the most developed knowledge of the task at hand. Sometimes, those individuals might not have the most seniority, but they are still encouraged to voice their concerns, ideas and input.

They are prepared in how to respond to failures and continually strive for new solutions. They might improvise more, or quickly develop new ways to respond to unexpected events. High Reliability Organisations might experience numerous failures, but it is their resilience and swift problem solving that prevents catastrophes. 

They don’t accept incoherence or self-imposed conflicts, which serve only to confuse or promote incoherence.

In conclusion every member of the Oil and Gas sector has the future of the industry in their hands. We are no longer free of the public spot light by being offshore, we are no longer given the freedom of the gold rush to deliver product to the market and we have a responsibility to each other to return home safe. So let’s remember the wise words of Erasmus and go heavy on prevention and light on cure.

Article created by David Mugridge, Business Development Manager in Singapore and Chair of the IADC South East Asia Chapter HSE Committee.