In the drilling industry, it’s not if things will go wrong, it’s when and how often. Frequently, success as a driller means not giving up through sheer tenacity and stubbornness. After all, it’s only earth and steel, right? We should be able to outsmart it.
But what do we do when things go wrong? On occasion, we all become frustrated and angry, but that leads us no closer to solving the problem or finding the root cause of a near miss or accident. The safety coordinator at my training facility (called a safety officer at most companies) recently implemented a simple approach to find the cause of accidents or incidents. I consider him a mentor, and he offered great help to me when I first began teaching, so when he suggested this approach, I figured I would try it.
The name of the system is the “5 Whys.” When presented with a problem or issue, think about it as a clear statement and start asking “why” like a toddler might. Keep asking why until you reach a full understanding of the root cause — an understanding you can turn into an action step or steps. Typically, it takes about five steps.
I think of how a typical conversation unwinds with a toddler and dad illustrates the 5 Whys approach. “I want more ice cream!” the child pleads. “You can’t have more,” the father says.
Your mother would be mad.
She doesn't want you having too much ice cream.
It's not good for you.
It has a lot of sugar and fat.
If you eat a lot of foods full of sugar and fat, you put yourself at risk for obesity and a disease called diabetes.
A little too much detail for a toddler? Perhaps, but we did get to the root cause of why too much ice cream can lead to poor health outcomes. See how the answers get clearer? Root cause analysis is what 5 Whys is all about. After an incident or accident, using 5 Whys to find the root cause of an accident may lead to a solution that prevents future mistakes. I know my example seems simplistic. The system itself probably seems like something we think we do already. Once we attempt to really use it, however, it turns out it’s not that simplistic.
Root cause analysis what 5 Whys is all about. After an incident or accident, using 5 Whys to find the root cause of an accident may lead to a solution that prevents future mistakes.
A little history: Neither my coworker nor I came up with this system. Japanese industrialist Sakichi Toyoda, the founder of Toyota Industries, developed the 5 Whys technique in the 1930s. It became globally popular in the 1970s. In fact, Toyota still uses it to solve problems. Toyota believes you can only achieve an in-depth understanding of operations through an in-depth analysis of events on the production floor. The company expects upper-level managers investigating problems or issues to “go and see” what's actually happening on the production floor and use the 5 Whys to determine the root cause of the perceived problem.
In the 5 Whys, you interview the people with hands-on experience related to the issue at hand. For example, maybe you’ve seen several near misses on a particular job or a with a particular drill crew. You can talk to those involved and use the 5 Whys to come up with a root cause, then a countermeasure that may prevent an injury or incident. Ensure you do this in a blameless fashion. You may find that, many times, employees themselves come up with the acceptable countermeasure. Remember, 5 Whys is not designed to reach a “solution.” Many times, solutions just treat symptoms of a problem and do not drill down to the root cause of the problem itself. Once you have a root cause, however, you can design a countermeasure to head off a problem before it arises.
Seeing a reduction in bit life on one particular job or by one particular drill crew? Talking to the crew using the 5 Whys can help you come up with the root cause. Then, you can identify changes in rotation, crowd or bit selection that can increase bit life and make the job more profitable.
You can deploy 5 Whys to find the root cause of any jobsite or business issue — whether a problem or simply a statement of fact. For example: I’m back writing for The Driller.
I feel our industry needs to move forward.
We have a history of being unsafe.
Our elders taught us that, to succeed in this industry, you had to be tough and tenacious, and give blood, sweat and tears.
Drilling capital costs are high and profits can be hard to come by.
We continue to undervalue our product, our skills and our hired help.
How’s that for a root cause? It’s good to be back. Until next month, stay safe, work hard, keep turning to the right and ask “why.”
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