For the Ells River Appraisal Project team, the theme "Zero is Attainable" (ZIA) was and will continue to be a journey to an incident-free operation. Over three successive winter season appraisal programs, the project team progressively improved safety performance while also overcoming many operational challenges.
The appraisal programs were conducted in a remote area of northern Alberta, Canada, a harsh environment for even the most seasoned oilfield worker. Winter temperatures drop to minus 45 degrees Celsius, and with a wind-chill, the ambient temperature feels like minus 60 to 70 degrees Celsius. During the work programs, crews endured snow covered hills, river crossings, extended darkness and forested conditions. At the conclusion of the first year of operations, the Total Recordable Incident Rate was unacceptable. The project team and company management were unwilling to accept this result, and adopted the ZIA approach to health, environment and safety (HES) performance for subsequent appraisal programs.
The ZIA initiative began with a systematic analysis of the conditions that needed to be addressed, followed by a collaborative, consultative plan of action that included peer and industry-peer reviews, meetings with contractors, communication training and education workshops and ultimately, the collaborative implementation, evaluation and communication of results. The ZIA plan inspired Ells River team to work independently and collectively on a mission-critical project that required creativity, ingenuity, a deep understanding of safety as a business value, sensitivity to the business issues of contractors as a key stakeholder, and a willingness to find mutually-beneficial approaches to a common objective that if successful, would not only produce a desired business result, but enhance the capabilities of all involved.
By the end of the third operating season, the team had reduced injuries on the project to zero while still completing the exploration appraisal programs on time, within budget. The success of the ZIA strategy can be attributed to the effectiveness of what are fundamentally a leadership, communication, training, and education initiative. The ZIA strategy has clear applicability to others in the industry, and in particular, to any company operating in similar extreme seasonal, remote worksites in Canada and around the world. Aside from the applicability of the ZIA program elements, ZIA also serves to model the practical realization of what others believe to be merely a theoretical target: Zero Is Attainable!