In 1998, the Thunder Creek Gas Services, LLC Company was established with just over a handful of employees as a joint venture to build a gathering and transportation system for natural gas in Wyoming’s Powder River Basin. Since that time, the enterprise has grown into a successful organization of currently almost 40 employees with locations in Gillette and Douglas, Wyoming, and Denver, Colorado.
For years, Thunder Creek has maintained a good safety record aside from an occasional driving incident, sometimes caused by encounters with wildlife. In fact, one of its facilities—Buckshot— holds a ten-year, incident-free record. So why did this organization decide to integrate behavior-based safety (BBS) into existing safety efforts? “We weren’t having a lot of incidents, but over the last few years, we’ve grown quite significantly,” explains Daniel Werth, manager of technical services in Denver and a member of the safety Leadership Team. “We were training new employees and had really looked at how to keep our team members safe. As people came on, the need was present to have a more robust safety process. Our parent company, Devon Energy, had implemented behavior-based safety. We did research on several programs and decided that behavior-based safety is one of the most proactive safety programs you can have.”
Thunder Creek selected Quality Safety Edge’s Values-Based Safety® approach, and in mid-2008 began the development of their customized BBS process which they named S.T.A.T.—Safety Today Avoids Tragedy. Participation in the process—conducting safety observations and providing positive and constructive feedback—is purely voluntary. All volunteers first attend a four-hour observation workshop and on-the-job training from a Steering Committee Member. “When the program first started a lot of people assumed that it was kind of a watchdog effort to get people into trouble. That idea was changed when management signed a statement saying there would be no repercussions for anything that was found during observations, that the process was to create awareness about safety, and it wasn’t something to micromanage or to follow people around,” says Derrick Balamut, mechanic and Steering Committee Member in Gillette. He refers to a Management Statement of Commitment signed by Thunder Creek’s top executives assuring employees that BBS is a positive and grassroots-driven process.
Why measure observations?
The people at each Thunder Creek location set their own improvement goals for the percentage of employees who conduct observations. Their view, and one that has proven true, is that the observer is learning just as much (maybe more) than the person being observed. Shelly Trigg, Gillette Steering Committee Member, sees BBS as adding at least one very important element to the existing safety system—awareness. “As you spend more time watching somebody else in their actions, you become more aware of your own actions,” she states.
Observers signal others that they are about to be observed by holding up a green clipboard, but . . . those being observed can opt out. Even under those circumstances, the employee has received a brief reminder that safety is a value. Usually, employees, using detailed checklists, observe tasks with which they are familiar, but the company encourages people who may not be expert in a particular task to conduct observations facilitated by the area checklists.
This “fresh pair of eyes” approach has also proven to be a reciprocal learning experience. “Somebody who is not used to doing that task using that fresh set of eyes, it means they’re not used to the normal everyday routine of that task, so they might see something to discuss as a concern,” says Trigg. In fact, Balamut remembers observing an electrician who was doing everything on the checklist correctly. When Balamut finished observing and providing feedback, the electrician asked, “Why didn’t you catch me on this?” Balamut recalls: “He held up his hand with his wedding ring and said, ‘When you’ve got your hands inside an electrical panel, you shouldn’t be wearing something like this.’ That was something new I learned.”
These types of discussions lead to the revision of checklists in the three areas of driving, office, and field observations. Each list contains specific and observable behaviors that may be amended to include other behaviors when necessary. “As concerns and experiences come along, we try to see if those concerns fit in one of our already existing categories. If they don’t, then that warrants a discussion about modifying the lists,” Trigg explains.
What about the data?
As mentioned, data from the observations, including safety concerns and comments, are entered into Thunder Creek’s data management system and analyzed by the Steering Committee. The information gathered is integral for creating safety action plans, revising checklist behaviors, addressing environmental concerns, setting goals, and planning celebrations. However, at one point, the participants weren’t getting enough information about how the observation data was being used, even though regular charts and updated data were posted throughout the facilities.
When members of the Steering Committee began receiving questions such as, “So does this information just end up in a box somewhere?” they decided it was time to better communicate their efforts. They began sending out regular e-mails to all employees concerning the observation data and which groups were meeting their goals. Today, they share which behaviors have met the 100 percent safe criteria and they have now asked personnel from different areas to attend Steering Committee Meetings.
“I’ve noticed that as we’ve invited people to our S.T.A.T. meetings, they are participating more than they did in the past,” says Maureen O’Connor, a Steering Committee Member in Denver. “We let them know that we are really responsive to their data.”
Calvin Monger, mechanic and Steering Committee Member agrees, “That definitely was a very big change that needed to be brought forth. The team members were not getting the feedback on what was going on with the observations. The things that we changed were getting the graphs up there on the boards, so they could see the participation—the number observed and the percent safe—everything that related to the observation sheet. We started giving employees feedback the following week after each S.T.A.T. meeting through e-mail and at Tuesday meetings. During these meetings, they’re allowed bring up anything they want to discuss at that point in time. We also have the Management Report which provides feedback to upper management regarding what our safety action plan is, our goals, and so forth,” he says.
Another method of letting team members know that their observation data is of value is to celebrate the achievement of BBS participation goals for groups and individuals. Throughout the year such celebrations and rewards are planned to encourage participation in the safety process. The celebrations (including bloopers videos, luncheons, BBQs, and other fun activities) are attended even by those not yet involved in BBS. “We always make sure when we have the celebrations that everyone attending knows that the more people participate, the more celebrations can happen. So we celebrate meeting goals but we also use celebrations as an encouragement,” says Trigg.
Individuals can also be recognized for supporting the BBS effort by encouraging others to participate, arranging celebrations, posting information, and/or helping with safety meetings and safety action items. In fact, according to Duane Krieter, Gillette Safety Committee member, support is a critical factor for making BBS work. “At times people might joke and try to catch you off guard, and ask if you really are a supporter of the process,” he says. “That’s when you need to stand up for it, let them know you are a supporter, and you believe in it. Sometimes just that conversation with someone will make a change that will spread.”
BBS—Not a Program
At Thunder Creek, safety is not an item that can be checked and forgotten; it is a daily, monthly, and yearly work in progress. By quickly addressing concerns and constantly providing feedback and reinforcement for specific safe behaviors, the BBS process has become a mainstay of daily work life. In 2011 to present, the group has experienced zero vehicle incidents, previously the highest incident area. The team sees any barriers as simply another challenge to improve safety as when recently an upsurge in activities, new projects, and business events reduced the monthly observations from the 60-70 percent average participation range to 40 percent. “We had some internal things going on that really tied up a lot of the folks last month, so we think that’s really the reason for the reduction. Everybody was so busy doing these other initiatives that they found it difficult to find time to do observations. That’s something the Steering Committee is working on right now: How do we keep that focus, because accidents are probably more prone to happen when we’re in a hurry,” says Werth.
Mike Hatterman, Safety Committee Member, believes that the observation percentage dip is temporary. “People just didn’t do as many because we were spiked with work,” he explains. “But this is a good process, because it keeps the awareness up for safety. Next month, we should recover in terms of observations, but the awareness of acting safely is still there.” As the S.T.A.T. plan states:
S.T.A.T. is an ongoing process of observation, discussion, and action.
It is not a program with a beginning and end. It is a continuous improvement process to enhance our current safety management system. The more people participate, the more we create a culture where everyone encourages everyone else to work safely.