BSEE’s New Boss Weighs In

The Director of  the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), Brian Salerno, took over the job in late August, but with the government shutdown, he hasn’t had much of a chance to outline his priorities.   In the last week, he did give a speech at an international regulator’s forum, where he talked about BSEE’s approach under his watch.

His approach seems to be very much in line with his predecessor, Jim Watson.   That should be no surprise.  Both were admirals in the Coast Guard and both cut their teeth in the maritime safety space.   So it should also be no surprise that Director Salerno’s approach to industry looks a lot  like the Coast Guard’s approach.   Just as BSEE was shaped by the aftermath of the Macondo disaster, the modern Coast Guard was shaped by the Exxon Valdez spill.   The Coast Guard’s approach of working with (rather than against) industry to address spill prevention and response has produced exceptional results.   Salarno’s speech reflects that:

We will continue our outreach efforts, and I am personally committed to four key principles in our interactions: clarity, consistency, predictability, and accountability. We will continue to work closely with the industry to reduce risks, while never forgetting that we work for, and are accountable to, the American people.

He talked a lot about safety culture, saying the regulations are just the “basic ground rules” and industry needs to go beyond the regulations:

So what do we mean by “safety culture” and how should we measure “safe?” Is it merely the absence of accidents? Is it compliance with regulations? Is it how you approach complex activities? I believe it is how you approach risk. How do you balance risk to your employees and the environment with the need to stay on schedule, to complete the well, or to start production? It goes far beyond management decisions. How do your people approach risk? Are they afraid to speak up when they see something wrong? Will they immediately halt operations if their colleagues are in danger? Or, do they only pay attention to the missing handrail when they see the helicopter with a BSEE inspector approaching their facility? How much risk – to themselves – are they willing to accept?

One clear message of the speech was that BSEE is searching for reliable leading indicators.  As Salerno put it: “Past incidents or accidents are a consideration, but this also may not be the best indicator of risk mitigation when you are dealing with low probability – high risk events.”

Click here to read the full test of Director Salerno’s speech.

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