From time to time, I would like to use this blog look at the different elements of the Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS) rule and to focus on how they are being put into practice. The first section, named General Provisions, is more commonly referred to as the Management Section. It is where the company commits the people, time and other resources to put the plan into place, but it serves a more important function – When management cares, things get done and if management doesn’t care, nobody cares.
Looking at the oil and gas companies, which have to develop the SEMS plans, management involvement is what tells company employees and contractors that they need to follow the plan and not take shortcuts. This was driven home the other day in a conversation with Greg Gordillo of Bureau Veritas, one of the approved third-party SEMS auditing bodies. He said that there was a direct relationship between management’s involvement in pre- and post-audit meetings and the number of areas for improvement found by the audit team. Reading between the lines, management’s commitment to making the plan work and to safety in general shouldn’t start the day it receives the final audit report. It needs to be ongoing and visible.
How does that impact contractors? I recently had the chance to sit in with Chris Kuiper, President at Environmental Health & Safety, as he audited an offshore contractor for a major oil company. I was surprised at how many of his questions focused on upper management buy-in. As we walked through the different pieces of the company’s safety program, time and time again, Chris wanted to know how involved management (in fact the owner) had been in making changes or reviewing policies. At one point, he asked if the owner attended safety meeting and how actively he participated. As it happened, the owner of this company had been the safety manager early in his career and was very hands-on.
It was very clear that, as operators come to understand how much management commitment SEMS requires, they are looking for the same commitment from the owners and upper management of contractors before they put them to work offshore. If some contractors are not already seeing this when their customers come to audit, they will as this sea change takes hold.
And that makes sense. Many believe that SEMS won’t be fully effective until there is a shift in the safety culture offshore. They are right. Safety culture begins at the top.