The Growing Importance of HSSE-SR in Our Industry

In September 2012, SPE (in partnership with the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association) held its most successful international Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility (HSSE-SR) conference to date in Perth, Australia

In September 2012, SPE (in partnership with the Australian Petroleum Production and Exploration Association) held its most successful international Health, Safety, Security, Environment, and Social Responsibility (HSSE-SR) conference to date in Perth, Australia, with 1,700 delegates from 44 countries. It included 375 accepted abstracts, which translated to 48 technical sessions (192 papers presented), 12 panels, 3 special sessions, 3 plenaries, and 89 ePosters. We also had an impressive 55 exhibitors and 16 sponsoring organizations. In addition to the success of these biannual international events (11 held to date), SPE also hosts five well-attended regional HSSE-SR conferences, plus a number of topic-specific workshops. So, what is all the fuss about?

The easy answer to that question is that HSSE-SR is becoming a more prominent factor in our industry’s day-to-day life. As regulator and external stakeholder expectations in the area of HSSE-SR continue to grow, operators, service companies, and others working to address the world’s ever-increasing energy demands are faced with the challenge of safely exploring, developing, and producing oil and gas resources in a manner that is compatible with the balanced environmental and economic needs of the communities in which they operate. For example, in the past, many environmental expectations stemmed from regulatory requirements, whereas the opposite has become true more recently where global environmental and stakeholder expectations are influencing the regulatory framework.

As these HSSE-SR challenges continue to emerge, the question we must ask ourselves is, are we as an industry and as integrated organizations prepared to meet these challenges? How do we prepare for the foreseeable future and what do we need to do to prepare for the unknown challenges that lie ahead?

Facing Expectations

Recent events around the globe have reminded us of the need for our industry to effectively address the broad HSSE-SR expectations as part of our obligation in earning our license to operate. Failure to do so will not only tarnish our image but also limit future access. As an industry, we need to focus on our license to operate, its scope and resulting expectations, and how to earn and protect that trust. All aspects of this industry have a vested interest in getting it right since what happens to one company essentially impacts everyone.

Unlike other technical disciplines within SPE, such as reservoir, subsurface, drilling, and facilities, HSSE-SR is truly cross-functional in nature and affects all aspects of our business to varying extents. Personnel safety has long been a focus area, and the associated processes, practices, and lessons learned are relatively easy to transfer from region to region globally. The same cannot be said necessarily for the rest of HSSE-SR (i.e., health, environment, social responsibility) where many of the drivers and mitigations tend to be more local or regional. While not directly represented in the HSSE-SR acronym, we should also not underestimate the key role that quality plays, especially when dealing with process safety and risk management. Therein lies part of our challenge.

When I look at the key themes and learnings emerging from the international conference in Perth, the ones that resonate the most are the following:

  • Systematic approaches and processes are essential to providing assurance to stakeholders.
  • Enhancing technology and science to solve HSSE-SR challenges is a prerequisite.
  • Increased sharing of lessons learned and standardizing of HSSE-SR approaches across companies continues to be beneficial and critical.
  • Transparency with external stakeholders is a must.
  • Risk assessment is a powerful way to tackle increasingly complex HSSE-SR issues; management of these risks should be part of everyone’s job.
  • Management of social responsibility, including continuous engagement with stakeholders, is increasingly becoming a mainstream business imperative.
  • Lastly, but definitely not least, effective HSSE-SR leadership translates to good business performance.

A prerequisite for effectively addressing HSSE-SR program requirements in our operations is to first have in place structured management systems that provide for continuous and visible management commitment and leadership throughout the organization, from the most senior management level to the operations, project, or office worker. All oil and gas companies, regardless of scale or region where they operate, must establish a clear and consistent vision for developing HSSE-SR management systems, along with related processes, programs, and tools to enable the organization to safely explore, develop, and produce oil and gas resources in a manner compatible with the balanced environmental and economic needs of the communities in which they operate.
The establishment of structured and disciplined management systems provides a mechanism for guiding the standardized execution and improvement of HSSE-SR processes, with one of the most significant being the expectation for management to visibly demonstrate leadership, commitment, and accountability for HSSE-SR system implementation and performance throughout the life cycle of the asset. Individual roles and responsibilities must also be clearly established, accepted, and exercised, with each individual having a sense of personal accountability for items within his/her sphere of influence.

Fig. 1 depicts the evolution of approaches to addressing HSSE-SR risks over the past few decades. Improvements in performance over this period came about through a combination of continuous improvement and step-change improvements, as new and better approaches to managing HSSE-SR risks have emerged. As the chart implies, we must remain focused on engineering safety and other aspects of HSSE-SR into our facilities and on the maintenance of effective HSSE-SR programs, procedures, and practices.

Continuous improvement is achieved by having appropriate assessment practices and leading/lagging measures in place. It is important for companies to challenge the effectiveness of management systems periodically and seek ways to make them more effective.

A second important factor is the ability to establish a continuous improvement mindset that is driven by the management system processes discussed above. Without growth and continued development, programs can and will likely become stale, which will translate to stagnant performance.

Understanding the work environment and associated risks within and external to the operating facility also aids in first identifying and then mitigating hazards and uncertainties. From a country- and/or site-specific perspective, it is important to develop a thorough understanding of the applicable permits and make an assessment of which requirements and obligations apply to the various phases of activity, from exploration to project construction to operations to abandonment.

Turning to risk, an effective risk-management process consists of the key elements noted in Fig 2—identification of the risks, a detailed analysis process, and guidance for managing those risks. This approach can be equally applied to operational safety, process safety, environment, health, and social responsibility. One method for doing this is through a scenario-based risk-assessment tool that utilizes the risk-matrix approach to characterize the probability and consequence of potential HSSE-SR impacts associated with a particular activity or facility. Using this type of approach provides a consistent method for defining the likelihood of an occurrence and potential consequences to the operation, workers, and the environment if something were to happen. Following a structured process such as this allows better understanding of risks and results in better-informed risk-based management decisions, ranging from complete mitigation to acceptance of the risk and everything in between.

The strength of the risk-assessment process depends in large part on a good understanding of the process being evaluated and the quality of information about an incident that has occurred, evaluation and interpretation of that information, and the identification of sound technical and feasible mitigation measures intended to lower risk. When assessing environmental or socioeconomic risks, it is important that companies conduct a comprehensive assessment that addresses all aspects of the environment in which we operate, including air, water, land, natural resources, biodiversity, and communities.

Key Messages

What are the key messages I want to leave you with?

  • The pursuit of HSSE-SR excellence must be viewed as a core value, not just a priority. Priorities change, values do not.
  • Superior HSSE-SR performance and incident prevention must be addressed within an overall integrated HSSE-SR management system. Only through a disciplined, structured, systematic approach can you address the inevitable changes in people, organizations, business, technologies, etc., in an effective and sustainable manner.
  • You must have the right tools for the job and you must have competent people and organizations utilizing those tools.
  • There must be strong ownership, accountability, and discipline associated with effective follow-through on recommendations, action items, and ultimately for the results. And that accountability must be with line management—not the safety organization or the HSSE-SR staff.
  • And all these things—rigor, competency, ownership, effective execution—that contribute to a culture of engagement all boil down to one key ingredient—leadership.
  • Leaders who are credible (for example, walk the talk), take action and follow through on their commitments, have resolve to stay the course and courage to do the right thing, and enable the engagement of the entire workforce are the leaders who “get it” and the leaders whose organizations have the best HSSE-SR performance over time.

In summary, leadership, teamwork, planning, and open communication drive HSSE-SR performance to a higher level and inherently impact the other business parameters that are also important to a company’s wellbeing in a positive fashion. Our task is to learn from past incidents and avoid future HSSE-SR incidents in our industry. Management leadership and commitment is mandatory to achieving this objective. While the role of the HSSE-SR organization is to support the business unit on development and implementation of the programs, it is imperative that line management is responsible and accountable for HSSE-SR program execution and performance. To be effective, a company’s management systems must have a very high degree of ownership and involvement at all levels of the organization.

SPE’s Role

SPE plays a role in helping the oil and gas industry achieve these objectives. SPE sponsors a number of international and regional conferences, workshops, and forums that cover all aspects of HSSE-SR challenges affecting the industry. These venues provide an excellent way for global HSSE-SR professionals to network and collaborate on issues of common interest. These venues are also an effective way to facilitate the transfer of knowledge from the West to the East, as well as across demographic groups. As effective and successful as they have been, a key way to make them even better would be to encourage line professionals to attend as well to gain a better understanding of the challenges, participate in the dialogue, and share their own line experiences and needs.

In addition, SPE this month is introducing a new periodical titled HSE Now. This will be a Web-based application accessible on Internet and mobile devices with the objective of becoming the “go to” source for global HSSE-SR and line professionals to get information, share learnings, and network. In particular, I am hoping that this periodical will be a key resource by our growing number of young professionals.

Other ways SPE is stepping forward to help industry meet the emerging HSSE-SR challenges are through its HSSE-SR Discipline Page on the SPE website, technical sections that focus on specific topics and allow professionals in those areas to network (such as the newly formed Human Factors Technical Section), formation of the SPE Sustainability Committee, and local SPE section meetings. Finally, keep an eye out for the various regional SPE HSSE-SR conferences around the globe, and of course I hope to see you at the next international SPE HSSE-SR conference to be held in Long Beach, California, in March 2014.


  • Moreau, R.L. 2008. Organization Design Considerations for Effectively Addressing HSSE Program Requirements in Oil and Gas Operations. Paper SPE 111336 presented at the 2008 SPE International Conference on Health, Safety, and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration, Nice, France, 15–17 April.