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When foresight replaces hindsight

How artificial intelligence impacts the future of oil and gas safety

Heather Stewart, Director of Operations

by Heather Stewart

Director of Operations, Advisian Digital, Calgary

05 November 2019
Where foresight replaces hindsight

According to the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP), there were 31 fatal incidents across the industry in 2018. This result was down only slightly from 33 the year before. A startlingly small improvement, given that preventing major accidents, injuries to people and hydrocarbon releases are top priorities across the energy industry.

Thanks to enhancements in technology, safety management in the sector has undoubtedly and steadily improved. Traditional methods of capturing and handling safety information have become incrementally more efficient, helping to keep people and assets increasingly safer.

But what if the future allows us to take the entire industry a step further? Widespread adoption of artificial intelligence (AI) promises to transform safety management in oil and gas. There's an opportunity for the sector to shift safety management from a backwards-looking discipline to being able to predict likely events.

Safety management today

Safety management has always been a discipline of continuous improvement, from seeing the redesign of infrastructure to account for human factors, to reformed processes that integrate productivity with safe execution. Each gain brings us closer to an operating environment with less risk.

Safety management is also a discipline of creativity and detective work, identifying repeat patterns and circumstances associated with incidents in the face of indecipherable handwritten or weather-beaten reports from colleagues. Digitalization has improved data capture systems, but the analysis is still predominantly a time-consuming task fraught with human bias.

"Predictive platforms like SaltGrid have the potential to shift the time and effort of safety professionals from administrative tasks to building programs based on what’s likely to come next."

Enter artificial intelligence 

The next generation of digital safety systems promises to deliver more than just information about past incidents that have occurred. Instead, we can analyze historical patterns to identify the nature and timing of future events.

SaltGrid, a predictive analytics platform created in partnership between SaltGrid, a leading data science company based in Silicon Valley and Advisian Digital, Worley’s data science, software and technology business, has been built to do just this. A cloud-based platform, it applies artificial intelligence to health, safety and environmental (HSE) data to predict the number, types and timing of incidents likely to occur in the future.

Using safety data, SaltGrid is also designed to quickly and without bias, recognize patterns and relationships that standard business intelligence does not. Predictive platforms such SaltGrid have the potential to shift the time and effort of safety professionals from administrative tasks (manipulating and analyzing incident, near miss and leading indicator data) to building programs based on what’s likely to come next.

So what does the future of a safety professional look like if we are freed up from these administrative tasks?

Foresight in safety management

Far from reducing or diminishing jobs, artificial intelligence has the potential to widen the scope of a safety manager, adding an opportunity to focus on creativity and problem-solving.

There is no doubt that AI-driven platforms could free up considerable time for safety professionals by automating the gathering, cleansing, manipulation and analysis of data. That time will be spent looking at the specifics of a project, asset or facility, and considering: "How do I apply my safety expertise, based on what these machine-generated insights are telling me?" and: "What can I do to change the predicted outcome?"

Artificial intelligence can put these decisionmaking pinch points front and center, moving the focus more toward proactive, specific action at a project, asset or facility level. This focus means that future mitigating measures can be highly targeted and efficient.

For example, the impact of weather conditions on a day-to-day basis is one area for data-driven improvement. Teams can be alerted to changes in the safety environment created by changes in temperature, wind, or precipitation, based on dangers and incidents experienced across historical combinations of asset, activity and conditions.

"Far from reducing or diminishing jobs, artificial intelligence has the potential to widen the scope of a safety manager, adding an opportunity to focus on creativity and problem-solving."

A lesson learned is a lesson shared

With less focus on administration and more time to focus on pre-empting, the safety manager of the future will need to be prepared to take a truly collaborative and transparent approach to safety. Continuously drawing on lessons learned, and actively sharing experiences with industry peers will become the norm, benefiting everyone working in the sector.

One of the visions, and even requirements, of platforms such as SaltGrid, is increased industry collaboration around data sharing. Anonymized data offers the opportunity to automate the lesson learning process between companies and across multiple verticals.

While energy companies remain competitive with one another, safety is one area of ongoing cooperation. To a large degree, this is a reflection of inherent, shared risk, and the recognition that everyone has a part to play in reducing the risk to people, assets and the environment.

Creating a safer world

Driven by advances in data processing capabilities, significant progress has been made in managing risk across the energy industry. With the introduction of artificial intelligence into the process, the future promises to be more data-driven, more creative, and, most importantly, safer than ever before.

Find out more about Saltgrid here.


Heather Stewart, Director of Operations

Heather Stewart

Director of Operations, Advisian Digital

Heather Stewart is the Director of Operations for Advisian Digital’s products and technology group, bringing experience in engineering, project management, talent management and health, safety and the environment (HSE). Working across all levels and business functions, Heather takes an inclusive and integrated approach when implementing digital solutions across global organizations. Heather is based in Calgary, and during her free time enjoys yoga, skiing and cycling.