A certain feeling
Drill ship Norbe IX in South Korea: a central role in setting a workplace safety record
Harsh weather conditions and high risks don’t stop teams at a shipyard in South Korea from setting a zero-accident safety record.
April 18 was a red-letter day at the DSME shipyard in South Korea, where the Norbe VIII and Norbe IX drill ships were built, and work continues on two other drilling rigs, ODN I and ODN II. On that date, the teams building those rigs celebrated eight million man/hours worked between January 2010 and April of this year without a single lost-time accident. This means that during that period, all the 2,500 shipyard workers performed their tasks with absolute safety, working 12 hours a day without harming their health or productivity. “This victorious milestone is a win for everyone, but it was only made possible by the unity of all the companies participating in these projects, who ensured strict compliance with safety standards,” says OOG Project Director Pedro Mathias.
A consensus on that issue among the over 10 companies participating in the project – a joint venture led by Odebrecht Oil & Gas (OOG) and DSME – was the starting point for ensuring the workplace safety levels achieved so far. Accidents also happen due to lack of planning, so the leaders of OOG and DSME got together to formulate a plan in which they agreed to pay periodic visits to the yard to inspect the facilities and working conditions. They agreed that no violation of the rules would be tolerated, and deviations would be immediately corrected. “The next step was to share our obsession with safety with the workers,” says Mathias, who joined CBPO as an intern in 1981, and worked at Odebrecht Perfurações Ltda. (OPL) until 1997. He returned in 2009 to join the Odebrecht Organization through OOG.
Working on the same page, the companies’ leaders spread the culture of safety throughout the workplace. Whenever a new stage of work began, production was halted for an hour-long meeting with the workers, who attended talks on safety and received explanatory materials on accident prevention. Other simple but highly symbolic initiatives rewarded the people who showed outstanding compliance with safety standards and, accordingly, exercised leadership in relation to their peers. In gestures highly valued in Asian culture, the company’s leaders publicly presented the workers with gifts, certificates, their companies’ caps and shirts, and even restaurant coupons so they could dine out with their families.
The role of communication
The leaders of OOG and the shipyard realized that, to prevent accidents, they needed an efficient communication system that went beyond giving lectures and putting up posters throughout the manufacturing area. To this end, they formed a group of leaders whose main job was to disseminate safety rules and culture among the workers. However, the language barrier was a major challenge. The leaders spoke in English, which was translated into Korean, but at first, because of differences that were more cultural than linguistic, the message was slightly garbled. Thanks to the leaders’ missionary zeal, that obstacle was eventually overcome. “We made it very clear that our goal was not to build ships at the expense of hurting people, and they realized that the safety requirements ensured that everyone was protected,” explains Mathias.
To influence the workers, the group of leaders relied on various tools. One of them was cameras. Any anomalies that presented risks, from a bare wire to oil spilled on the floor, was photographed for educational purposes and posted on the factory’s bulletin boards. “Pictures send a powerful message,” said Mathias, who has been in Korea since 2009 and oversees all of OOG’s projects at the DSME yard.
The milestone of 8 million man/hours worked without a single lost-time accident is even more significant considering the risks inherent to operating a shipyard. What’s more, at the peak of the projects, DSME worked with more than 800 people, often in adverse conditions, exposed to rain, snow and wind. Worker turnover was another challenge, as many professionals joining the workforce had to be trained in accident prevention from scratch.
In an environment like that, even the slightest precaution makes all the difference. The drill ships average 240 m in length and 107 m in height, from the keel to the top of the tower, which is equivalent to a 26-story building. Many workers operate in tight spaces where the air is thin, and in high temperatures caused by hot welding, which is widely used, not to mention that they are constantly exposed to flammable liquids like paints and solvents. Dangers exist, but the OOG and DSME teams have proved that achieving the mark of 8 million man/hours was, in itself, a well-deserved reward for everyone.