There is a saying: “To err is human.” We make mistakes and this can lead to difficulties, even disaster.
Many crises are of our own making, but there are others that are precipitated by a catalogue of errors by various people or calculated manoeuvres by one or more individuals who are beyond the average person’s control.
Right now, humankind is battling with a crisis, the impact of which was unimaginable even six months ago.
Covid-19 is cutting a swathe through the population. Normal life is seriously compromised in a long list of countries as the death toll mounts.
It is said that it takes a crisis to bring out the best in people, particularly the strong striving to help the weak. Government-enforced lockdowns have encouraged widespread positive behavioural changes that have basically been driven by fear and the need to stay safe.
In the highly disciplined, team-based North Sea oil and gas industry workforce, it seems senses are even more heightened than the usual already high level.
One of the spin-offs of this might be an improvement in already high standards of safety, according to leading human factors specialist, Rhona Flin, Professor of industrial psychology at Aberdeen Business School, Robert Gordon University.
“Covid may be encouraging many people working offshore to change their behaviour, though at this stage the possible safety improvement is anecdotal,” said Prof Flin.
“But if there has been any increase in offshore people slowing down critical tasks, being kinder to each other, being conscious that they have to be doubly careful in everything they do, especially on installations reduced to skeleton staffing, then this could reduce risk.
“It helps that Step Change in Safety director Steve Rae has recorded a series of podcasts around the theme of safety during Covid. A key theme is about looking out for one another and taking more time when starting jobs.
“But, while I have heard suggestions that there could be an improvement in safety, other people are saying things are not improving and that there could in fact be more offshore incidents because of Covid restrictions.”
But life is not that simple. It’s not just about Covid. The oil and gas industry was just a few months ago driven into its fourth deep crisis since North Sea oil first flowed.
On the one hand, while Covid may well be encouraging offshore workers to support colleagues more than ever before, the oil price shock has sparked job losses, with the result that everyone both off and onshore is on edge.
Prof Flin said there is a third major factor – the energy transition is gaining traction, especially in Europe. It is starting to put pressure on oil majors and their supply chain, therefore also on jobs.
But the energy transition is medium to long term. Covid and the fourth crash are the here and now.
After the UK lockdown was implemented, the North Sea situation went from bad to worse with the price of Brent bottoming out on April 22 at less than $17 per barrel. It means producers have had a rough ride, leaving much of the industry on a knife…