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Bypassing Safety Controls

The International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (IOGP) Life-saving Rules address nine critical areas where repeated fatalities have occurred.  When we look at the incidents and events submitted for IMCA Safety Flashes, we see that the critical area identified most often, is that of bypassing safety controls. Investigating the incidents and events submitted for IMCA Safety Flashes shows that bypassing safety controls may be a causal factor or an underlying issue in almost half of them.

The HSSE Core Committee hopes to be focusing on this important area during 2021. It is an area that ties in well with the need to focus on the human element in safety, on such crucial factors as situational awareness and being prepared for the unexpected.  

When we look more closely at bypassing safety controls, we can identify a number of factors that may have contributed to or added to an unplanned or unwanted incident or event.  There’s equipment, such as machines and barriers, and there are processes and procedures. Processes and procedures of course relate to what we do – or what we don’t do – with equipment.

  1. With regard to equipment, someone may have:
  • Not used safety-critical equipment when they ought, or,
  • Crossed a physical barrier they ought not have crossed
  • Not understood how to operate safety-critical equipment, and used it incorrectly.

When it comes to not using safety-critical equipment, or crossing barriers, this could be quite deliberate, or it could in fact be accidental. With regard to the final point on understanding, we touch very quickly on how well are we communicating? What are our processes and procedures like?

2. With regard to procedures, someone may have:

  • Not understood safety-critical procedures which applied to the task;
  • Understood the safety-critical procedures – but nevertheless, for any one of a number of reasons (some of which may have seemed good at the time) didn’t follow those procedures

Equipment, barriers, processes and procedures, are put in place to keep us safe. An important aspect of the human element or the personal story, in safety, lies in ensuring that all this works properly. We might ask, is our equipment fit for purpose? Can it be used easily and efficiently?, or is it complicated to operate, hard to understand and not straightforward? Are the safety barriers obvious and easy to use? It should not be easier and quicker to bypass barriers than to follow them.  Are our procedures laid out in straightforward and easy to understand plain English? Is following the procedure easier and more straightforward than not doing so?

Any steps towards reducing the incidence of bypassing safety controls does need to take all these factors into account: we can’t rely on coercion; it’s vital that people are brought along and engaged as part of the safety process.

Read more about the IOGP Life Saving Rules.

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