Offshore industry’s safety metrics inadequate, experts say

The safety measures used by the offshore oil and natural gas industry don’t adequately monitor the risk of major accidents, speakers at a Chemical Safety Board public hearing said Tuesday.

Common safety measures like worker injury rates are easily manipulated and aren’t linked to catastrophic events like the 2010 Macondo well spill in the Gulf of Mexico, industry consultants said during the public hearing at the Hyatt Regency Hotel downtown.

In fact, focusing on personal injury data has caused companies to overlook broader problems in their process safety, contributing to major accidents, said Ian Whewell, former director of the United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive Offshore Division.

“There is a probability that companies focused only on occupational safety and personal injury can become complacent in the face of good personal injury performance and cease to drive for improvements which will impact on major accident risk,” Whewell safety.

The Chemical Safety Board released findings in its investigation of the Macondo well spill, determining that companies involved relied too much on personal safety data to measure overall safety of the operation.

Just before the Gulf of Mexico spill, BP, which owned the Macondo well,, and Transocean, which owned and operated the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig under contract with BP, celebrated the job’s excellent safety record.  That year, Transocean’s top management was eligible for bonuses for meeting the company’s safety standards.

Kenneth Arnold, who chaired a National Research Council report on offshore safety management systems, said the report found no specific statistic that might have indicated the Macondo well operation was susceptible to a blowout or other catastrophic incident. Given that, Arnold said, that the best way to avoid major accidents is to develop a “culture of safety” in an organization.

That creates an environment in which every worker makes decisions that reduce risk, “even when no one is looking, when it is not in their immediate best interest and when under stress,” he said.