Call for Action on Offshore Safety Culture
Change is needed to transform the offshore oil and gas industry’s safety culture, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
The report states that the industry should implement the recommendation of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling that called for an independent organization dedicated to safety and environmental protection, with no advocacy role. The Center for Offshore Safety, created by the American Petroleum Institute (API) immediately after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill, could be made independent of API to serve this purpose, the report suggests.
The industry’s advance from shallow water into deep water of up to 10,000 feet has increased the dangers to a workforce already engaged in an intrinsically hazardous occupation. About 75 operators, 17 drilling contractors, and more than 1,000 contractors/subcontractors conduct activities in the Gulf of Mexico. Because of differing safety perspectives and economic interests, offshore oil and gas companies do not all belong to a single industry association that speaks with one voice regarding safety, the report says.
Several challenges exist in setting and implementing consistent goals for safety practices and culture, including variation in the types of organizations that may work on a single drilling site, heterogeneity of practices such as supervision and training and diversity of employees’ safety attitudes and educational backgrounds.
The industry as a whole should create additional guidance for establishing safety culture expectations. Regulators, the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), U.S. Coast Guard and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration, should participate in these efforts and help ensure consistency.
In addition, the secretary of the interior and the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard should encourage prominent leaders in the offshore industry to champion the nine characteristics of an effective safety culture identified by BSEE, develop guidance for safety culture assessment and improvement and facilitate information exchange and sharing of experiences in promoting safety culture.
BSEE’s characteristics of an effective safety culture are:
1) leadership commitment to safety values and actions,
2) respectful work environment,
3) environment for raising concerns,
4) effective safety and environmental communication,
5) personal accountability,
6) inquiring attitude,
7) hazard identification and risk management,
8) work processes, and
9) continuous improvement.
Operators and contractors should assess their safety cultures regularly using multiple methods, the report says, because no single approach provides a complete picture.
A commonly noted problem in studying accidents in the offshore oil and gas industry is the lack of complete and accurate data related to accidents and near misses. Therefore, regulators and the industry should define the factors necessary for understanding the precursors to accidents, determine what data need to be submitted to which regulatory agencies, regularly collect and analyze data, and share findings across the industry.
The report is available here.