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SPE 98605

SPE 98605 A Framework for Managing Workplace Stress in the Oil and Gas Industry E. Dahl-Hansen,

A Framework for Managing Workplace Stress in the Oil and Gas Industry


Dahl-Hansen, ExxonMobil; R. Treeby, BP; R. Keulemans, Shell; M. Doig, Chevron; N. Al-Maskery, PDO; and


Lerman, ExxonMobil

Copyright 2006, Society of Petroleum Engineers

This paper was prepared for presentation at the SPE International Conference on Health, Safety, and Environment in Oil and Gas Exploration and Production held in Abu Dhabi, U.A.E., 2–4 April 2006.

This paper was selected for presentation by an SPE Program Committee following review of information contained in a proposal submitted by the author(s). Contents of the paper, as presented, have not been reviewed by the Society of Petroleum Engineers and are subject to correction by the author(s). The material, as presented, does not necessarily reflect any position of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, its officers, or members. Papers presented at SPE meetings are subject to publication review by Editorial Committees of the Society of Petroleum Engineers. Electronic reproduction, distribution, or storage of any part of this paper for commercial purposes without the written consent of the Society of Petroleum Engineers is prohibited. Permission to reproduce in print is restricted to an abstract of not more than 300 words; illustrations may not be copied. The abstract must contain conspicuous acknowledgment of where and by whom the paper was presented. Write Librarian, SPE, P.O. Box 833836, Richardson, Texas 75083-3836 U.S.A., fax +1.972.952.9435.

Introduction Work-related mental illnesses are becoming one of the

major causes of occupational illness and work years lost. Exposure to stressors can be both work-related and non- work related. The Oil & Gas Health Committee of OGP/IPIECA has decided to issue a brouchure on this



The term "Stress" will be used as the overall

description of the subject. The term "Stressor" is used to label pressures or demands that are known to have the ability to cause


The term "Distress" is used to label a set of bodily, behavioral, and emotional reactions in response to issues or events that we perceive as challenging or


Origins of distress Distress resulting from non work-related causes is quite common and will have an impact in the workplace. Conversely, distress resulting from work related causes will have an impact at home.

Stressors are ubiquitous across every facet of our lives and it is difficult to isolate one group without recognizing and accounting for the others. Stressors are interactive and interdependent and this is an important fact that needs to be recognized.

Within any occupation there may be a multitude of stressors and each employee will respond in a different way to these stressors. Examples of some main work related stressors:

lack of control

time/deadline pressure

poor relationships

excessive travel

lack of consultation/communication

work overload


organizational change

threat of redundancy

The effects of stressors Distress is frequently related to an imbalance between the pressures being exerted and the resources of the individual. When pressures and demands rise, the way individuals think, feel and behave is altered. As a result, changes in physiological functions occur and if unresolved can lead to health problems. However, people tend to perform better when under a moderate amount of demands or pressure

The signs of distress Many of the outward signs of distress in individuals should be noticeable to managers and colleagues although in some cases the signs will not be obvious. Look in particular for changes in a person's behaviour, such as deteriorating relationships with colleagues, irritability, indecisiveness, absenteeism or reduced performance.

Prevention Most of the things that can be done to prevent distress

are a product of good management.

should be looking out for pressures that could negatively impact people and then intervene to ensure people are

not harmed. Educate yourself on what causes distress in the workplace and actively work to minimize those things within your control.

Basically, one


SPE 98605

Systematic assessment and control

Supervisors can assess the level of risk posed by psychological hazards as part of a general Health Risk Assessment process and where necessary develop and implement an action plan.

A member of the business leadership team should sponsor this work to ensure that it receives appropriate attention

Using validated questionnaires or checklists to gather and aggregation of data will facilitate understanding of potential stressors. It is recommended to allow employees to draw on their own detailed knowledge of local and contextual factors e.g. by using focus groups as part of the risk assessment process. An important principle after a survey has been done is to present the data to the unit, ensure acceptance of the findings by discussing the data with the team and last, but not least search for measures to improve the situation. The most important output of a risk assessment is the Remedial Action Plan (RAP) that improves control to reduce exposures to as low as reasonably possible.


Once an issue has been identified you need to establish what the causes are:

Listen to the individual! Talk with the employee about what if anything in the workplace is contributing to the distress. Do not try to solve non-work related issues but be open and supportive.

If the distress is obviously work-related try to address the source(s).

Consider consulting HR and/or Occupational Health who may be able to help you depending upon the situation.

If appropriate, encourage the employee to seek further help through their doctor, personal medical provider or EAP.

If one of your team is suffering from work-related distress, he or she may represent the tip of an iceberg. Find out whether others are also experiencing distress at work.

Finally remember that health related issues are “privacy cases” and should remain confidential. Therefore, we need to ensure that we do not breach this trust in any of our communications.

Self Help

Brief suggestions for managing personal distress (1):

Develop support structures. Talk with someone

Take control


Take action…do something


Say no to excessive demands




Slow down


Leave on time

Take pressure out of what you tell yourself:


Catch yourself from jumping to conclusions, taking things personally, or making mountains out of molehills.


Ask yourself, “Will it really matter five years from now?”


Challenge your unreasonable “shoulds”, “oughts”, “musts”, “owes”, and “deserves”.

Avoid exaggerated labels such as stupid, lazy, dumb, crazy, and ugly.

Learn techniques to remain focused like mentally shouting, ‘Stop!

Recognise the impact of change and the stages you will go through when experiencing change

Maintain self esteem and remember you are probably not alone in your thoughts and feelings


Anyone can suffer from distress. It all depends on

the circumstances we are in at the time. Preventing

it is good for employee health and well-being and

good for business. In addition anyone can develop

a mental illness, but it is important that this is not confused with distress

Employees may be reluctant to admit they are feeling distressed by work. This is because symptoms of distress tend to be seen as a sign of weakness. You can help by making it easier for your staff to discuss distress. Reassure them that the information they give you will be treated in confidence.

Systematically assessing and controlling potential stressors at work will ensure a good working environment and a healthy and productive workforce.