The push for safety

As local businesses struggle with the hardship wrought by the oil and gas downturn, one company is making sure production in the gulf avoids disaster.

SafeZone, a Houma-based safety company, has managed to stay afloat as the price of oil has tumbled. Mark Diebold, company president, said SafeZone has grown over its 12 years and now employs around 100 people across locations in Houma, Gray and Broussard.

SafeZone started in 2004 as a safety training company in Houma after Diebold had spent years in the safety business working for different companies. The business hit an accelerated period of growth around 2010, when SafeZone engaged in what Dieblod calls an “aggressive marketing campaign” to get additional work from major oil companies.

The company has expanded its scope to also rent out safety personnel and equipment for offshore operations. SafeZone also creates pressurized welding enclosures, which the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement requires for any company wishing to weld within 10 feet of process equipment on a production platform. Diebold described how the enclosures provide a safe working environment on the high-stakes platforms.

“We build an enclosure out of a fireproof canvas. We pressurize it with air, and we have sensors that monitor for explosive gases, lack of oxygen, lack of pressure,” Diebold said. “And if any of those are detected, it shuts down all the welding apparatuses, all the hot work components. Anything, if they’re doing any grinding, it shuts down the torches and sounds alarms.”

Diebold said his company has been affected by the slowdown, but not to any financially fatal level. In the wake of the Deepwater Horizon explosion and subsequent oil spill, increased regulations and a changing culture have meant an enhanced emphasis on safety offshore, meaning more work for SafeZone. According to him, oil companies have “continued to put safety above production at all costs.”

“We’ve been affected a little this year with the downturn, but not really much. I think regardless of the oil price, safety is a big factor with the offshore environment. The operators in the Gulf of Mexico will not compromise on safety,” Diebold said.

Diebold said he thinks the experience at SafeZone is what helps the business stick out from competitors. Diebold said he and SafeZone’s operations manager each have more than 30 years of safety experience. The two have tried to pass that wisdom onto the rest of the company in its preparation for offshore jobs.

“We train our crews really well, make sure they understand what our goals and objectives are for each operator we’re going to work for. And we feel our control system is superior to our competitors,” Diebold said.

While 2016 has been a year of resilience in the face of depressed oil prices and limited opportunities for work, Diebold hopes 2017 year is a bounce back for the entire energy sector and in turn his company. He said he does not plan on changing the company’s business plan or further expansion, noting he does not want SafeZone to become a jack-of-all-trades but master of none.

“We don’t want to expand into doing too many different things, because we feel if we do too many different things then you’re not good at one. We’re trying to focus on the things we’re good at and provide those services,” Diebold said. •