Offshore operators should focus on building safety barriers

Offshore safety auditors will focus on identifying potential hazards and protective barriers against them, said Charlie Williams, director of the Center for Offshore Safety at a Thursday morning breakfast at the Offshore Technology Conference.

These offshore safety audits, which all offshore operators will be required to complete by November 15, 2013, are based on the Safety and Environmental Management Systems established after the Deepwater Horizon accident.

“Where we have to be is that the workers that are responsible for certain hazards know they are responsible and what they are responsible in terms of ensuring that those barriers are maintained,” Williams said.

The audits will focus on whether operators have developed systems that effectively create barriers against the hazards identified by companies.

“The question, are the safety barriers maintained – my philosophy is that this is the key to these audits,” Williams said. “As a result, what we should start measuring is barrier problems and how they are maintained.”

For this reason, the Center has focused on creating standards that will make the audits comparable, so that regulators and companies can learn where the safety issues and weaknesses appear in the industry.

“This is only going to work if we do this together as an industry,” Williams said, noting that there are more than 5,000 contractors currently working in the Gulf of Mexico and that 86 percent of the work in the Gulf is completed by contractors. “Contractors need to have a SEMS system, so you can bridge between the contractors and the operators.”

Developing these plans would also remove some of the auditing burden that operators currently have for guaranteeing the safety plans of contractors.

“This would avoid having the contractors audited by 150 operators, in 150 ways,” Williams said.

Williams also praised the training simulation centers that some companies have established, that gives workers an opportunity to practice responding in a simulated accident scenario.

“People tend to fall back on their experience in times of crisis and not their training,” Williams said.