Extracting natural resources, especially offshore drilling, is one of the most dangerous occupations in Australia, so the decision to outsource emergency and response management to a third party is a significant one.
Rising outsourcing agreements
Outsourcing transfers the responsibility for emergency responses, including prevention, preparation, response and recovery phases, from the minerals and energy organisation to a contractor. This may include safety audits, staff training and conducting evacuation drills. Motivations for outsourcing this critical function include reduction of labour costs, access to highly trained personnel and freeing internal resources to focus on core tasks.
While outsourcing can improve incident management, it also underlines the need for seamless and connected communications between the third party organisation and the mining, gas or oil company, especially in the case of an incident.
Simon Lever, managing director of emergency response organisation CROSS Asia Pacific Pty Ltd, explains:
“We have seen more operators outsourcing in order to bring in experienced and multi-skilled professionals with emergency response management as a core business. One of the issues facing operators – whether during construction/operation mode or programmed maintenance – is the inability to communicate as one organisation, particularly with subcontractors coming onto the site. This is critical in the time of an event when clear communication and time counts.”
The third party may have staff onsite at the mine or rig for a range of reasons: onsite training of staff, inspecting equipment, risk assessments, conducting regular inspections of the effectiveness of procedures, managing drills, conducting safety walks, attending safety committee meetings or even conducting drug and alcohol testing of employees. Some organisations may even outsource the role of “blast guards” during blasting operations.
An added complication may be varying devices used by third parties. The majority of the workers on the rig or mine site may use rugged digital two-way radios whereas visiting trainers or other personnel bring their own smart phones or other devices such as tablets.
Communication is key
With external staff attending the site or rig at any time, using a variety of devices, the critical element is a seamless communications system across the site that encompasses third parties, for their own and others’ safety.
Lever agrees: “By far the most important key to any incident management is communication, coupled with reliable and accurate information delivered on the spot. With sites now having more and more service providers in the field of emergency response, interoperability is paramount for a seamless and timely response approach. Having the ability to have control of correct processes of communication is critical. A timely response cannot be effective if there are two or three different communication modes on site. Integration via a control room is paramount. The right communication system is paramount for any business and the best business continuity tool an organisation can have.”
So how can true interoperability be achieved?
Achieving true interoperability
A digital communications system provides mining, oil and gas operations with the ability to bring everyone onto the network – including third party operators – as well as monitor the location of those workers.
Software applications, such as WAVE Work Group Communications, connect disparate networks on a push-to-talk (PTT) platform, enabling everyone to communicate regardless of device, including smart phones, two-way radio, desktops or landlines.
Interoperability potentially raises questions of security of communications, which is crucial in such a competitive industry, however, WAVE is highly secure, JITC-certified* and trusted by many of the top military organisations worldwide to provide secure voice and data communications.
WAVE’s PTT keeps workers connected across a variety of situations, and not just those onsite. Visiting third party emergency management experts who do not require a radio can utilise their existing smart devices to communicate, while supervisors can listen in from off-site or at home to never miss a moment. Remote control centres – where operators are managing critical operations thousands of kilometre away – have visibility of communication with third parties as well as staff.
Third party location tracking
Operators at remote control centres for minerals and energy typically monitor personnel via a console. WAVE’s optional real-time location tracking provides operators with greater visibility of the entire operation, as supervisors and command staff see an improved real-time view of resources, including third parties.
Lever adds: “A communication system with the ability to ‘see’ the location of actual personnel or equipment via GPS locations is so important for the fast response and execution of incident management, thereby reducing the chance of incorrect locations and loss of valuable time. Onsite command can get a snapshot view of the situation by looking at the onsite control panel without increasing over-the-air communication, allowing responders to carry out their role more efficiently. The time saved in the correct response reduces the risk of loss of life, asset loss and downtime to recovery.”
Accommodating personnel fluctuations
Interoperability solutions not only facilitate communication with third party emergency management organisations, but there may also be instances when the number of personnel onsite, particularly contractors, increases for a certain activity. Applications such as WAVE can quickly and easily scale up to 5,000 users if required so that during a site shutdown, such as a planned outage or upgrade, contractors coming onsite for repairs or building works can be instantly and securely added to the network. This not only ensures maximum productivity but, most importantly, protects the safety of everyone onsite.
Emergency management on a mine or rig is an enormous responsibility with huge stakes but outsourcing this task to dedicated specialists is not uncommon. The critical element of successful outsourcing is reliable communication with all personnel across the mining, oil or gas organisation, including third parties and contractors.
* JITC-certified: Joint Interoperability Test Command) is a body which ensures that services, tools, and environments to ensure joint warfighting IT capabilities are interoperable and support mission needs.