The best corporate slogans are inseparable from their brands. Nike has “Just do it,” American Express has “Don’t leave home without it,” and in the tractor business, “Nothing runs like a Deere.”
Western Hot Oil Service has a slogan of its own. Theirs isn’t permanently etched in popular culture, but it does speak volumes about the Texas Oil and Gas Association safety group member’s business strategy: “The key to success is to learn to do something right, and then do it right every time.”
At Western Hot Oil, doing things right means doing things safely.
“I want every one of my people to go home safe at the end of the day,” said Perry Sooter, the company’s owner.
In an industry driven by production, Perry’s genuine concern for employee safety is refreshing. He has built a culture in which safety is a value that never gets compromised. You can do the same if you follow Perry’s tips for overcoming common exposures in our industry.
Exposure: Employee turnover
If oil hasn’t regained its place as king of the Texas economy, it has, at minimum, claimed a piece of the throne. People from across the country have descended on Texas towns like Perryton to fill lucrative positions as floor hands, roustabouts and rig operators.
Many are new to the industry. Others are veterans who frequently change jobs, offering their expertise to the highest bidder. Frequent turnover makes it difficult for well-intentioned companies to teach new workers about their safety philosophy.
A thorough hiring process forms the foundation of Western Hot Oil’s safety program. The task of getting the right people for the job falls on Richie Gastineau, the company’s general manager.
Richie requires every applicant to take a pre-employment drug screen. He also reviews their driving records and checks references. If someone has a poor work history, it’s hard to hide in Perryton.
“We’re a small community,” said Richie. “When someone walks in looking for a job, there’s a good chance one of our guys knows him. If not, all I have to do is make a quick phone call.”
If everything checks out, new employees proceed to the safety orientation process. The process starts with classroom instruction on general safety topics, as well as topics specific to hot oil work.
Richie understands that training is not a “one-and-done” endeavor. When the classroom instruction ends, the real learning begins with the help of experienced workers.
Western Hot Oil leverages long-time workers’ knowledge as part of its mentoring program. They are eager to share their wisdom on everything from conducting JSAs to safely travelling from the office to the job site and back.
Exposure: Motor vehicle accidents
Fatality rates in our industry are seven times higher than other industries, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. There is no arguing that heavy equipment, explosive gases, hazardous chemicals and confined spaces create volatile conditions that contribute to that statistic. But of all the hazards your employees face, the most dangerous is something they probably consider second-nature: driving.
Motor vehicles accidents are a leading cause of fatalities among oil and gas workers. The primary contributing factors are speeding, drowsy driving, distracted driving and not wearing seat belts.
Western Hot Oil conducts the bulk of its business within 50 miles of Perryton. However, the company recently picked up work in West Texas and New Mexico. Commutes can extend to 400 miles, with accidents waiting around every bend of rural, two-lane highways.
Western Hot Oil mechanics keep the company’s fleet of hot oil trucks, super heaters, tube testing rigs and pickup trucks road-ready. Computerized maintenance tracking programs verify that oil changes, brake checks and other routine maintenance is performed on schedule. When older vehicles are ready for retirement, Perry replaces them with new vehicles equipped with the latest safety features.
Of course, reliable vehicles alone do not ensure driver safety. Human behavior drives the majority of motor vehicle accidents. Western Hot Oil’s fleet safety policy clearly defines what the company expects from employees.
The policy requires drivers to control their speed, especially when roads are slick, visibility is poor or they are hauling awkward loads. They are not permitted to talk on the phone or send text messages behind the wheel. If drivers are tired, they pull over to a safe place and rest. And everyone, including passengers, must wear their seat belts at all times.
Richie introduces new hires to the fleet safety policy during orientation. Then, they hit the road, again under a mentor’s guidance.
New hires ride with experienced drivers before graduating from the passenger’s seat to the driver’s seat. Once the mentor is confident his understudy took the training to heart, a supervisor follows the new hire to the job site, verifying their ability to drive safely, operate the equipment properly and set up the job site per the customer’s requirements.
Hazard: Hydrogen sulfide exposure
The oil and gas industry owes at least part of its rebirth to hydraulic fracturing. This new technology has opened doors across Texas, North Dakota, Montana and Pennsylvania. It has also increased the risk of exposure to hydrogen sulfide.
Hydrogen sulfide, commonly known as sour gas, is not a new hazard. We’ve been contending with it as long as we’ve been drilling into the earth’s crust. With companies extracting oil at record volumes, more sour gas is coming along for the ride.
Sour gas is highly flammable and toxic. Health effects range from discomfort of the eyes and nasal passages at low concentrations to dizziness and difficulty breathing at moderate concentrations. At higher concentrations, sour gas instantly paralyses the respiratory system and can lead to death.
With Perry’s support, Richie invested in multi-gas meters. The meters allow operators to test for sour gas, as well as other flammable vapors, oxygen and carbon monoxide.