Warren Hubler was fresh out of engineering school and eager to prove that he could be a roughneck. But one day a 350-pound wrench stopped him cold in his tracks. Hubler was working on an oil drill when the wrench slammed into his face. Hubler survived with chipped teeth, a broken nose and a new appreciation of how lucky he was to be alive.
Hubler devoted his professional life to workplace safety after that event and now serves as the VP for Health, Safety and Environment at Helmerich & Payne Drilling Company in Tulsa, Oklahoma. For him, attending the Executive Forum at this year’s Safety in Action conference is an important duty for any safety leader.
“Leaders can pretend to care but leaders cannot pretend to be there,” Hubler says. “If we’re truly committed to the safety of our employees we’ll be there long before a tragedy ever occurs.”
Hubler knows what he’s talking about. He’s seen first-hand the big impact a small mistake can make on the job.
“It occurred in July of 1995,” Hubler says, “and involved an unsuspecting rough-neck who was simply trying to ‘make a hand’ is the phrase that we use. He was asked to disconnect a piece of high-pressure piping and replace it with an inert bull plug. And the fitting he was provided was actually the wrong size fitting to install. [It] blew off and that fitting became an 8-pound cannonball and he was struck by the fitting and then by the fluid. It would be like getting hit by the water coming from a fire hose. And it drove him backwards up against an iron beam where he hit his head. And he died 20 minutes later in the ambulance en route to the hospital.”
Hubler keeps a photograph of the well site where that accident took place in his office. Ironically, the site is adjacent to a cemetery.
“And I’ve communicated to people in my workplace family and within my industry,” Hubler explains, “that we live and operate every day that close between safety and operational excellence on the rig floor drilling wellbores or six feet under because of a deviation from a known safe work procedure.”
For Hubler workplace safety is a race without a finish line. He says safety leaders must always push to make their companies less dangerous for co-workers. And that means attending educational seminars at places like the Executive Forum are a must. He’s looking forward to this year’s agenda of issues including contractor safety management and future directions in work and safety.
“The challenge is to identify those things that can make a difference,” Hubler says, “to instill a strong safety culture within the organization so that safety is not just the responsibility of the health, safety and environmental staff for a given company or for the safety staff but it’s in the hearts and the minds of all of the leaders of that company and that that message permeates the entire company culture.”
A powerful message from a man who knows a thing or two about safety (and getting hit in the face with a 350-pound wrench).