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Staying in the zone: offshore drillers' situation awareness.

Roberts, Ruby; Flin, Rhona; Cleland, Jennifer


Jennifer Cleland


Objective: The aim of this study was to identify the cognitive components required for offshore drillers to develop and maintain situation awareness (SA) while controlling subsea hydrocarbon wells. Background: SA issues are often identified as contributing factors to drilling incidents, most recently in the Deepwater Horizon blowout. Yet, there is a limited body of research investigating SA in the offshore drilling environment. Method: In the first study, critical incident interviews were conducted with 18 experienced drilling personnel. Transcripts were subjected to theory driven thematic analysis, producing a preliminary cognitive framework of how drillers develop and maintain SA during well control. In the second study, 24 hr of observations (in vivo and video) of drillers managing a high fidelity well-control simulator were analyzed to further develop the framework. Results: The cognitive components that enable drillers to build up an understanding of what is happening in the wellbore and surrounding environment, to predict how this understanding may develop, were identified. These components included cue recognition, interpretation of information in conjunction with the current mental model, and projection through mental simulation. Factors such as distracters, expectations, and information sharing between crew members can both positively and negatively influence the drillers SA. Conclusion: The findings give a preliminary understanding into the components of drillers SA, highlighting the importance of SA for safe and effective performance and indicating that Endsleys model of SA can be applied to drilling. Application: The results have consequences for training, task management, and work design recommendations.


ROBERTS, R., FLIN, R. and CLELAND, J. 2014. Staying in the zone: offshore drillers' situation awareness. Human factors: the journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society [online], 57(4), pages 573-590. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Sep 30, 2014
Online Publication Date Dec 15, 2014
Publication Date Jun 1, 2015
Deposit Date Jan 28, 2020
Publicly Available Date Feb 28, 2020
Journal Human factors: the journal of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society
Print ISSN 0018-7208
Electronic ISSN 1547-8181
Publisher SAGE Publications
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 57
Issue 4
Pages 573-590
Keywords Drilling operators; Drillers; Situational awareness; Cognitive task analysis; Oil and gas employees; Oil and gas industry
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