Riding Herd on Oilfield Safety: Cowboying Up to Higher Standards
Integrity Wireline’s face of oilfield safety—Kit Payne, the company’s manager of HSE—knows what it takes to ensure the safety of a business’s employees and to uphold the policies needed to stay in the saddle.
Payne is well into his second year running this critical department for this top independent wireline firm. Integrity’s sterling safety rating keeps the company in the front ranks of wireline service providers. Some of the biggest and most prestigious oil companies in the nation are regular customers of Integrity. Integrity CEO Kelly Connally recruited Payne to his present position—having known Kit from years past when they worked together at the same company.
“He was the safety guy there and he did a phenomenal job,” Connally says. “I was one-on-one with him there every day. When I heard he was considering going elsewhere, I brought him over here. He has done phenomenal things for us. Kit is very business-minded. He takes care of stuff. He gets on things really quick. And not only that, but he’ll do whatever he needs to do to be a part of the team. Whether it’s selling, getting MSA’s [Master Service Agreements] done, or whatever—he’s done it all. And he’s just a good guy.”
Recently Payne spoke about how he came to specialize in this field and how safety in the oilfield has made great strides during this generation.
A Ranch Upbringing
He was raised in the big ranch country of the Texas panhandle—born to a family that had its roots in that most western of occupations—cattle ranching.
“My family’s all rodeo and ranch and all that,” Payne says. “My uncle, in his younger years, traveled with [and rodeoed with] Chris LeDoux, and he wrote two songs that Chris recorded. I grew up knowing Chris. I always thought he was kin to us. You finally get older and realize—hey, he was somebody! (Laughter) I’d have treated him differently if I had known!”
Payne’s great grandfather ran the famed Matador Ranch. Kit himself was raised on a ranch outside Dalhart. That ranch was the original headquarters of the XIT Ranch. His father was a rancher who came to hire himself out to other ranchers as a herd builder. Hard times came for ranchers all across the region around Dalhart, and when Kit was reaching high school age the Paynes moved south, to the Tuscola area, where Kit’s father took on a new career selling animal health products, including pharmaceuticals.
A Hobby, Not a Lifestyle
“I’ve been here ever since,” Payne says. “Longest I’ve ever lived anywhere.”
It turns out that, after spending all his youth on ranches and in the company of cowboys, Payne decided he “want to do anything but be a cowboy.” He smiles, and adds: “So I still rope and ride horses and work cows and do all that, but it’s cowboying as a hobby, not a lifestyle.”
Drilling Down to the Oilfield Safety Basics
One of Payne’s former supervisors—during his stint at Sidewinder Drilling (later Union Drilling)—was Jim D. Mayfield. Mayfield knew Kit even before the latter’s arrival at Sidewinder. “I was around him as he was growing up as a teenager,” Mayfield said recently. “He was one of my son’s best friends.”
As a worker, Payne was “a good hand,” Mayfield says. “He had a stepfather who raised him and who was a Texas kind of guy who shot straight. A man of few words. But someone who meant what he said and said what he meant. He taught Kit to do the same thing. To do the right thing. He was a good one.
Payne worked in safety for Mayfield and did “a bangup job,” according to Mayfield, former division manager over Texas and New Mexico. “He carried through all the way and… just didn’t waver. He wouldn’t let guys off just because they were friends or good guys. Everybody had to carry their own weight and be the safest they could be, or Kit wouldn’t put up with it. He took it real serious.”
Close to Home
Long before Payne had found work in the oilfield, he had taken to wife a Tuscola girl. He says today of his wife, Wendi, that “she’s lived her whole life within 100 yards of the place where she was born. She’s never lived anywhere but here. That’s good. And bad.” (Laughter) “She’s kin to everybody in the county.”
The same close-to-home condition holds true for their two kids—their 27-year-old daughter, who graduated from Texas A&M, and their 19-year-old son, who’s currently a sophomore at A&M. “We’re proud of both of them,” Kit says.
Wendi is a schoolteacher, teaching 3rd grade in the Jim Ned school system. They’ve been married 28 years.
After high school, Kit dabbled in college but left that to go into the working world, taking his first job at Anheuser-Busch.
First Foray into Industrial Safety
“I was just a beer handler and worked up to where I started doing safety there,” Payne said. Later I worked for FedEx, and went through management training class there and got into the safety side of that industry and started training guys in the safety side of it—driving safety, loading safety, and all that—and moved up to the management level of that. And then from there went into the oilfield and started off on the drilling side, at Sidewinder Drilling, in safety. Had six rigs under me. I was responsible for all six rigs and all the employees on those.
“We had 28 rigs running, so the safety department was split up among those 28 rigs, with each safety employee taking a handful of rigs,” he added. “Well, you know, there are rigs at every company that are bottom of the barrel. So they’re going to give you two of those—and you’re going to get two good ones. Then you hear, “We want these two bad ones to be at the same level as the good ones. You’ve got six months to do it, you know?” (Laughter) “So, that’s how it used to be. But it’s changed so much. Used to be, the mentality of the oilfield was like this: a guy gets hurt and you hear them say, ‘That was his job. Get rid of him—he’s a liability.’ Nowadays, instead it’s [treated as] a failure of your safety department when somebody gets hurt. As it should be.”
This is a sign of the evolution of the oilfield, in safety matters.
Everything Began to Change
“Nobody purposefully sticks their hand in something to get crushed,” Payne says. “So when accidents came to be looked upon as a failure of the safety department or the management, that’s when things started to change. That’s when you started getting managers out there saying, “Hey, this is how you work. This piece of machinery—this is what it can do. If you don’t do it the way we tell you, if you want to speed things up by taking the safety guards off or taking the shields off or not wearing your PPE [personal protective equipment], you’re going to get hurt.’ That’s where everything started to change.”
It was during his stint at Sidewinder that Payne was sent to a Train-the-Trainer program. (Some trainers are credentialed to train other trainers.) Payne has kept up his credentials and is a Train-the-Trainer to this day. He could do safety training for companies outside his own company, if there were a call for that. But his own company’s work keeps him fully occupied.
Besides the work at Sidewinder, Payne worked at Byrd Oilfield Services, out of the Abilene area, and at API, based in Albany, Texas. API was his last stop before Integrity Wireline.
Another way that safety has changed in the oilfield has been the emphasis on verification of training. Payne says that today one’s safety training must be accredited through companies that specialize in that field.
What the Major Oil Companies Want in Oilfield Safety
“Devon, Exxon, Oxy, Shell—all your major players insist that, when you have oilfield safety training, it has to be verified through a third party,” Payne says. “The third party will have a set training schedule, and they’ll have a set curriculum that you have to comply with. It’s not just, ‘Go on in there guys, get on the forklift, be safe with it.’ Nothing like that. It’s a programmed deal all the way.
“Employees who pass the training get an ID card that has their name and photo on it and, on the back, the training they got and the dates when they took the training. Companies have gone to this kind of credentialing because things got so bad, in former times, when people could just ‘write a card’ for someone on the spot. It got real bad with the ‘tailgate’ safety cards. Somebody would say, ‘Hey, I need a forklift card.’ And a manager would fill it out, at the tailgate of a truck, and hand it to that person. You had untrained guys out there.”
The Safety Picture Changes
“Now you have to know the equipment,” Payne continued. “You have to know how it runs. You have to know the inspection of it. There’s so much training involved in that. It all came about because people realized, ‘We need somebody to go in there and hold their feet to the fire and let them know they’re going to have to prove that they’re doing the training.’”
Payne says that organizations such as the PEC Safety Network will come into a business like Integrity Wireline and do audits.
“They’ll come in here and look at my safety room,” Payne says. “They’ll look at my rosters, made sure that the guys are in there, and then they’ll call or they’ll email or they’ll talk to the employees. ‘How was the training?’ they’ll ask. You know, there’s even an evaluation where they evaluate me as an instructor. So you have to prove yourself qualified to be an instructor. So, that’s really helped the oilfield industry.”
It’s helped Integrity Wireline too. And it’s helped Integrity’s employees go home safely to their families, day after day. Just another way this company “does it all with integrity.”
Kit Payne’s role as Safety Manager at Integrity Wireline is covered further elsewhere on this website on Safety Matters.