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A safety department in an oil and gas-related company is not a human resources department, but the year-round routine of keeping accidents at bay is a routine that calls for some real people skills. And it calls for some insights into human nature as well. Kit Payne is the manager of safety at Integrity Wireline, based in Abilene but with operations across multiple states. Payne gave an interview recently in which he discussed some common sense approaches to his calling, as well as some realities that only a career spent in safety could reveal. The following is a portion of that conversation.

Interviewer:  I’ve heard it said by a safety expert that “Telling is not training.” Can you comment on that?

Payne:  It’s like this… if you know a safety guy, then you know somebody that has about 500,000 stories. Meanwhile, when it comes to a training event, science has proved that when you start teaching or training somebody, you’ve got them for 25 minutes. Once you reached that 25-minute mark, you’re monotone. They’re out. The room’s too warm, the room’s too cold, they’re thinking about going to the house to do stuff. So, what you actually are is a teacher. You’re not a trainer. Not then. When you’re hands on, you’re training. Hands-on is like, “This is a piece of equipment. This is how you work it.” But when you’re in a classroom, you’ve got to be just like a teacher. My wife’s a teacher. She’s been a teacher for 21 years. So, I’ve used her wisdom. “You’ve got to keep third-graders entertained.” There’s no difference between a 40-year-old and a third grader when it’s attention deficit [that you’re dealing with.]

So, it’s not just an open deal, with you telling them stories. [Telling is not Training.] They don’t care about my past and they don’t care about stories. I’m not a “gory” instructor. I’m not going to show slides. If somebody lost a finger, I’m not going to show that. I’m not going to show accidents. I’m more of a “What have y’all noticed out there?” type. You know how that works. You inform me what you do and I’ll show you if we’re doing it right. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you do. Somebody taught you how to do it. Whether you’re mowing the grass or working an engineering job. Somebody showed you how to do it. Well, we all hope that that guy was an “A” player and he was the top of the line.

Kit Payne talks safety in the oilfield.
Kit Payne talks safety in the oilfield.

Interviewer:  How has the role of being a safety manager changed?

Payne:  Most of your safety guys… it’s funny… but if you look back, to the past, in the oilfield industry, the guy that was the safety guy through the ’80s and ’90s was the guy that had four fingers and a limp. (Laughter) It was unfortunate, really. But, you got hurt. You couldn’t do the job anymore. They brought you to the office. They’d say, “Well, he knows what it’s like to lose a finger. So he’s the safety guy.” You know, that’s your Old School types. Nowadays, it actually is a school. You have a test you’ve got to take. For example, when our guys go in there—just for, say, their PEC training—they’ll go in there and they’ve got to take an actual test. And it’s not, “Hey, let’s go over question one. Who agrees on this answer?” No, it’s a sit down. It’s a pass/fail. If you fail, you’re going to be taking this class again. So we’re both being graded. [Payne, as safety manager, gets a score as well as the employees he instructed.] And if my success rates are below an 80 [percent], I’m not teaching the class [any longer]. But that’s all about teaching—which is different from the training. The training’s going to happen when we actually get to the oil patch—when we get out in the field.

Interviewer:  How is it different in the field?

Payne:  For us, being in the field means doing wireline. It’s an oil and gas job, but it’s unique in its own way. When I got into oilfield work when I started with Sidewinder Drilling, it was a totally different animal [than wireline]. We always said it’s like swinging a pickax all day long, compared to other sides of the oilfield. Wireline’s different. On the wireline side, we’re out there and it’s 12 hours of working in the heat and in the elements, just like everybody else. But now there’s a little more slow-down time. We get to wait on the frac crew for, you know, up to three hours. That’s an opportunity. That’s why we [safety managers] need to be in the field. And we are. We spent a lot of time in the field, and when there’s down time, that’s the time to start picking worker’s brains. We’ll say, “Guys, you just came off of two hours of working. Now we’re waiting on frac before we start it again. What happened in those two hours?” You ask them what they think “could improve” in their performance. Or you see if they’ll admit, if necessary, that “I’m not totally 100 percent sure on this.” Those are the coaching moments. That’s when we take field notes. That’s when we write stuff down and we bring it back to the classroom. We do that so that when we have a guy who’s new to us who’s never been in an oilfield, I’m not just a safety guy going, “Well, I don’t really know what they do out there, but you know, be safe.”

Interviewer:  What are some of the things you might tell guys that you’re onboarding?

Payne:  I’ll tell them something like, “Okay, you’re going to be working on this piece of equipment. This is how it runs. This is how we maintain it. And here’s what a typical day is like doing that.” A person deserves to know what they’re getting into. I might say, “You know, you’re going to miss birthday parties. You going to miss Thanksgiving. You’re going to be away from the house for two weeks, living in an apartment with four other guys. You’re all going to eat together. You’re all going to work together. It’s almost like bringing a roommate with you that you’ve never met before.” An employee needs to know that before signing on and going out to do it. Because [otherwise] the turnover rate [is high].

A company gets graded on its turnover rate just like they do on a safety rate. If your turnover is 80 percent, then, first of all, nobody wants to come work for you. Someone will say, “Those guys fire people, or people quit there.” And then other companies—companies that might hire you—notice that. They might say, “Well, they’re constantly changing hands.” These hiring companies want consistency. We have consultants out there who, when we have to have guys on vacation and we’ve sent in a different crew out there, might ask us, “Hey, where are my guys?” We’ll say, “These [other] guys are good.” They’ll say, “I know, but I’m used to these guys. We’ve built a rapport. They know how I work. I know how they work.” So, you’ve got to really watch this business of changing guys out and just moving guys in and out. That’s another benefit of actually getting in there on location [and experiencing what is really going on].

Interviewer:  And it’s also another aspect of how the safety manager is involved in operations, right?

Payne:  Yes. We can say to companies that are considering us, “You know, our EOG guys have been working with EOG for four years. They’ve worked with the same crews, they worked with the same engineers, and the same consultants.” The truth is, they get to know each other. Our guys, and the oil company’s guys… I mean, they know each other’s kids and they know what their lives are like. They know their wives’ names. They know what’s going on. And someone like me can know that because I get out there with them, too. The familiarity of it is so important. It’s all about knowing your guys. Knowing when his attitude is not what it was yesterday. Something’s on his mind. His mind is not in the game. And then you can start calling each other out. “Dude, what’s going on at the house?” Because if your mind’s at the house, your body’s not paying attention to what you’re doing. So that’s one way we’re making things safer for everyone.

Kit Payne came up through the ranks just like every other manager at Integrity Wireline. His story is one of perseverance and belief in what he’s doing.

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