Culture shift

Published:  14 April, 2016

Risk management and oversight in Gulf of Mexico ‘still inadequate’, says US CSB.

Offshore regulatory changes made following the Deepwater Horizon have not done enough to place the onus on industry to reduce risk, nor do they sufficiently empower the regulator to proactively oversee industry’s efforts to prevent another similar disaster, the US Chemical Safety Board has warned.

The CSB’s draft report found that a culture of minimal regulatory compliance continued to exist in the Gulf of Mexico and that risk reduction continued to prove elusive.

The Deepawater Horizon incident took place April 20, 2010 and killed 11 workers, causing the biggest oil spill in the history of offshore drilling. The Macondo blowout, which occurred 50 miles off the Louisiana coast under the direction of Transocean and BP, affected the oil and gas industry worldwide.

CC BY-SA 3.0 Wikimedia

A complex interplay of physical, operational, and organizational barriers failed that day, sending oil and gas from deep below the ocean floor onto the drilling rig, triggering explosions and ensuing fire that left 11 of the 126 workers dead and critically injured at least 17 others.

Following the 2010 incident the Department of Interior reorganised how it regulated offshore drilling and production. It divided the former Minerals Management Service into two separate branches, one to sell offshore oil leases (the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management) and the other to enforce safety and protect the environment (the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement).

Although the new Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement quickly instigated additional regulations, the CSB’s report has found that these regulations lack key concepts to effectively reduce risks and prevent future Macondo-style incidents.

In fact, CSB investigators found that many of the risk management policies Transocean and BP had in place before the disaster would have satisfied the new post-Macondo federal requirements. In addition, a BSEE audit has found that some companies are still placing more emphasis on documenting regulatory compliance than actually managing risks.

CSB investigators found that the crew on the Deepwater Horizon rig acted in ways that made sense to them at the time, influenced by organisational practices and expectations, previous experiences, and normal human psychological processes.

Seemingly inconsequential decisions made throughout the day of the blowout by management and workers culminated in unanticipated loss of well control the crew was not predisposed to anticipate.

The CSB’s report emphasises the need for an assessment of human performance expectations and thorough consideration of human factors as they relate to safety systems intended to control or mitigate hazards. Of particular importance and highlighted in the CSB’s report is the need for social and cognitive skills training for improved interactions and decision-making, in conjunction with technical competencies. The dynamic and complex offshore work environment must be considered in order to overcome cognitive biases and other mental traps that may influence decision-making.

‘In the complex offshore drilling industry, the key to ensuring safety is not just teaching people procedures, but how to adapt and be flexible during pressure-packed emergencies,’ CSB investigator MacKenzie said: ‘Industry’s focus must shift from correcting individual “errors” identified post-incident to a systematic approach for managing human factors.’

In addition, beyond BP and Transocean the CSB has found US offshore industry regulations and guidance do not sufficiently address the critical role process safety indicators and corporate governance can play in preventing catastrophes.

‘While safety management of offshore drilling and completion in the Gulf of Mexico is now mandatory, the SEMS Rule lacks a number of critical attributes. These attributes, if implemented, will put more onus on industry to demonstrate in practice that they are effectively reducing their major accident risks to the greatest extent feasible and give BSEE more explicit authority to proactively oversee industry’s risk reduction efforts,’ commented CSB investigation manager Don Holmstrom.

Eleven recommendations for safety change are proposed. These include a more robust risk management regulatory framework that includes regulatory input from other offshore regions worldwide; and empowering the BSEE to assess industry major hazard documentation and practices.

Three additional recommendations relate to developing industry guidance on human factors and corporate governance and establishing a process safety culture improvement program.

The CSB also recommends that the American Petroleum Institute revises API Recommended Practice 75 to expand SEMS responsibilities beyond just the operator; include explicit and expanded responsibilities for human factors, corporate governance, workforce involvement, contractor oversight, and key performance indicators; and incorporate the principles of a risk reduction concept (eg ALARP- as low as reasonably practicable) and the hierarchy of controls. A proposed recommendation is also made to the Ocean Energy Safety Institute to conduct further study on riser gas unloading scenarios and publicise the lessons to advance industry understanding of this well operations risk.

Finally, the CSB issues one recommendation to the Sustainability Accounting Standards Board (SASB) to update, strengthen, and finalize the SASB’s provisional Oil & Gas Exploration & Production Sustainability Accounting Standard to expand its reporting recommendations to include disclosure of additional leading and lagging indicators.

‘Offshore regulations in the US have been moving toward a performance-based approach, but in order for the changes to be effective, there are key regulatory attributes BSEE needs to pursue,’ said CSB Chairperson Vanessa Allen Sutherland. ‘These include an adaptable oversight approach that continuously strives to reduce risk, proactive tools to evaluate and monitor safety performance, and meaningful worker participation. Successful safety and risk management will take a tripartite effort by industry, BSEE, and the workforce. Ultimately, this will require a culture shift for everyone.’

  • Operation Florian

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