Oil is like Safety

Recommended by friends, I’ve read two books this year on the subject of oil. One a biography, Titan: The Life of John D. Rockefeller, Sr., and the other a history of the discovery and commercialization of oil, The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money & Power. Both incredible reads.

It’s easy to think of oil as liquid money. Drill a well, refine the oil, sell it, and make millions. Wrong.

Oil is like safety for two reasons:

It’s worthless unless it’s valued: In the 1860s, oil sold for a low of 10 cents a barrel then peaked at $8.06 a barrel. In Texas, in the early 1900s, barrels of oil could be bought for 4 cents at Spindletop, while water was 5 cents a cup. Until the oil could be refined and sold, it was a cost and not an investment.

Safety too. If EHS is viewed as a cost, it will be reduced. If EHS is viewed as a production inhibitor, it will be decimated. Does EHS add to production in your organization?

It’s expensive if mismanaged: Most early oil explorers went broke. Those early Texas oil drillers? Many died destitute after they were forced out of their companies due to gross mismanagement. They could find the oil, drill for oil, and even secure oil leases, but they could not manage the growing organization. Rockefeller’s secret to success? He was a bookkeeper who balanced the books to the penny. Even into his 90s, he managed his vast wealth in excruciating detail, while many of his competitors went broke learning expensive lessons on organization.

Have you ever seen a mismanaged safety program? It’s a shell, designed to meet only regulatory requirements and exists only to employ employees who no longer produce. It’s entirely forgettable.

Safety, when valued and well managed, is like oil.

Is your oil worth 4 cents or $100 a barrel?

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