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5 key learnings from training on the unexpected and emergent conditions

Colombo_Express_055Training of crew in safety critical positions is gaining momentum in the Oil & Gas industry. With the recent IOGP publications regarding Crew Resource Management (CRM) in the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, assurance of competence of crews in key operational positions has become apparent. To reflect this, the bi-annual Human Factors in Control Forum recently organized a seminar with the topic “training for the unexpected and emergent conditions”.

Several interesting presentations held by acknowledged researchers, CRM trainers, consultants, and operator company representatives gave valuable input on this subject.

Sounds interesting, right? Here are 5 key takeaways from the seminar:

  1. Both foreseen and unforeseen events are two important situations you should train to be prepared for.
    • Foreseen events require routine experience. Use of procedures support, to a high extent, handling of such situations. It is a good chance that foreseen situations are handled in a safe and efficient manner if knowledge to, quality of, and availability of procedures are good.
    • Unforeseen events, on the other hand, require adaptive experience and cannot be trained on in the same manner as foreseen events. It is just not possible to write procedures for situations you cannot foresee. Extensive process expertise (or pure luck) is essential to handle unforeseen events. Improvisation and procedure violation have shown to be necessary to handle unexpected incidents. See A. B. Skjerve’s presentation here.
  2. Unexpected events frequently (not always) call forth cognitive overload and stress. Through two forms of workload/stress reduction, training can generally mitigate these reactions:
    • Direct effects: Acquire additional effective strategies to manage workload and negative emotions
    • Indirect effects: By automating processes/tasks it is likely to reduce workload and subsequent stress (on high workload tasks). See G. Matthews’ presentation here.
  3. Detection is generally associated with high mental workload. It may be evident, but the research shows that caffeine has positive effect on task performance related to typical detection tasks. You are at the same time advised to stay home from work if your job includes performing safety critical detection tasks and you are not feeling well. Sickness degrades the task performance! See G. Matthews’ presentation here.
  4. High degree of automation (e.g. cruise control on a car) may have negative effect on performance due to e.g. degradation of vigilance. The same phenomenon is also applicable for control room operators. If an operator has too low workload, degradation in vigilance may be a consequence. Flexible automation and introduction of secondary tasks may be a good measure to keep vigilance high! See G. Matthews’ presentation here.
  5. Risk awareness training is important to be able to identify “cues” in the situation that enables you to shift from a “fast” to “slow” thinking pattern (ref. the seminal book of Daniel Kahneman). “Open the door to safety – awareness is the key” is an old safety slogan, and may actually be true.

As CRM has become more mature in other industries such as aviation and healthcare, the challenge for the oil & gas industry now is to apply theory and experience to the petroleum context. In a time where cost takes priority over other concerns, it is clear that any additional investment should be scrutinized for its implications with regards to its effect on safety and efficiency of operations. Training is one of these investments. At the same time, one of the clear lessons from the seminar was the effect training can have; not only on safety, but also on production regularity because of the crew’s heightened ability to handle unexpected and emerging conditions.

For more information, please contact DNV GL Senior Human Factor Consultant Koen van de Merwe.


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