Building a Successful Safety Culture

Building a Successful Safety Culture

David Stewart, Vice President, EHS & RC, and Government Relations, Bonanza Creek Energy, Inc.

Recently, a series of articles appeared in the Denver Post in regards to worker safety in the oil and gas industry.  These articles were not reflective of the Bonanza Creek Energy safety culture, nor are they reflective of the industry as a whole.  Historically, oil and gas has been a highly hazardous industry, but the response to these hazards has been rapidly improving year over year and our industry has taken many steps to decrease hazards to our workforce and improve the safety culture throughout.

sunflowersAt Bonanza Creek Energy the focus on safety culture, as well as technical program developments are keys to improving worker safety and reducing the number of safety incidents.   Our proactive approach to safety has been driven by company Leadership.  They have provided the direction and resources to focus our efforts on accident prevention through a program of leading indicators, hazard recognition, contractor engagements, program reviews, causal factor analysis, risk assessments and training.

Our culture is an example that defies the portrayal of the oil and gas industry.  We recently celebrated the achievement of working 2 million employee hours without an injury that caused time away from work.  This represents 2+ years of drilling wells, completing wells, constructing pads, laying pipeline and performing various other tasks related to oil and gas production, without severe injuries to any of our employees.  True, much of the heavy lifting is done by our partners (contractors), and it is important to note that contractor injuries have also been vastly reduced with no fatalities and very few lost time injuries.  Injuries to both contractors and Bonanza Creek employees are considered preventable and we work to understand the root cause of the incidents in order to prevent them in the future.

At Bonanza Creek Energy, the first tenant of our safety culture is that we treat “safety as a value”.  Values are the cornerstone of safety culture and we work hard to help both our employees and contractors CARE for each other.  This bedrock of our safety program helps workers understand that working safely and mitigating hazards can have a positive impact.  Conversely, an unsafe act or unaddressed hazard can have a significant negative effect on a fellow oil field hand.  We focus on a culture of mitigating hazards, reporting incidents and actively working to identify root causes.  We do not maintain a culture of blame, hiding incidents or refusal of benefits to injured workers.  Rather, we are an industry with a higher risk than others which has been steadily marching towards improvement.  The improvement was recently documented, as shown in Figure 1[1],


Figure 1

by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH).

I have been actively working with NIOSH for five years, primarily focused on reducing transportation related injuries and solving occupational health issues such as silica dust exposure and vapor exposure.  The collaboration between NIOSH and the oil and gas industry has led to a reduction in injuries and fatalities.

The industry has changed dramatically from 2003. With the many steps both industry and regulators are taking to reduce injuries and illnesses and a recognition that there is always more that can be done, the improvements will continue.


[1] Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health (2016). NORA Oil & Gas Extraction Sector Council: Accomplishments and Impact during the 2nd Decade of NORA. (Power Point slides).