How We Die in America

The National Safety Council (NSC) has released its annual “Injury Facts”  report.   This excellent statistical  snapshot of how Americans are hurt or killed in the country has been produced for the last 90 years, which means it is the authoritative record of trends over time.

First, the good news for safety professionals; Your work is paying off.   Work-related fatalities fell by seven percent between 2011 and 2012.   The not so good news – just about every other category of fatality increased.

The most shocking statistic – Poisoning is the leading cause of unintentional death for Americans between 25 and 64 and half of those fatalities involve drug overdoses.   Experts point the finger at opioids like Oxycontin as a leading culprits, especially with mixed with alcohol, but a  quick Google search turns up motor fatalities linked to drugs like Xanax, Tramadol and Ambien.

NSC did an analysis over time and found that, 50 years ago, unintentional drug overdoses were a leading killer of small children.   Then came safety caps and tamper-proof packaging and the number of children dying dropped.    About 20 years ago, drug overdoses started to climb in adults and it shows no sign of slowing down.  For those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s hearing about the dangers of drugs, there is an irony here.   The drugs we heard about were  illegal drugs – marijuana, cocaine, heroin.   The drugs that are killing people today are produced by legal manufacturers and may well have been prescribed by a doctor.

What does this mean in the workplace?   It means that we need to recognize that prescription drugs are a part of every facet of our society including the workplace.   We tend to focus our drug programs on what a worker was drinking or smoking.   We may need to pivot and look more at how we identify impairment, regardless of the drug or drink.   We need to make sure our supervisors and managers know how to recognize when a worker is impaired before something goes wrong and to teach workers that just having a prescription does not mean that they have a license to work under its influence.

You can view a webinar on the 2014 NSC injury report here.

Better Duck – Here Comes The Oil Spill Drone

Lest it goes unnoticed,  BSEE, the Coast Guard, NOAA and the EPA are working on using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to monitor oil spills.   The agencies participated in a test run of the technology in early March.  The goal is to allow a drone to track spill sheens and send real-time information back to the spill command center.   The agency says there will be a full public demonstration at the International Oil Spill Conference (IOSC) in Savannah, Ga., May 7, 2014.

Makes sense.   Information is critical in a spill.   Anything that can help avoid putting live pilots into the air reduces risk and spill cleanup costs.   And after all, private industry is moving quickly to explore the possibilities of drones.   Didn’t Google make headlines recently when it said it was looking into delivering your packages by drones?   Facebook just said it wants to use drones to offer better connectivity (That should generate a million “Likes”).

Here’s my only gripe – This should the most exciting stuff in the world.   So why is the YouTube announcement so dull?

We want Droids, lasers and explosions.  Can’t someone call George Lucas to send over his special effects guys to jazz this up?

OMG – Its Blowing Up!

This is video of an accident involving  high pressure gas cylinders somewhere in Russia.


  I don’t know what the lesson from this video is:

  • Don’t try this at home?
  • Uncontrolled release of energy sources will ruin your day?
  • Thank heavens we don’t allow unsecured transportation of high pressure cylinders in this country?
  • You can’t imagine how bad things can get and how fast?

Maybe I go with the last one – imagination.   My fundamental belief is that one of the biggest risk factors we face on a daily basis is our inability to imagine how a small problem (a minor fender bender) can escalate into a major incident ( jet-propelled gas cylinders shooting 40 feet in the air).

But I am sure of one thing.  This should probably be shown at every safety meeting on road awareness and handling of hazardous material.

Complacency: Danger Dead Ahead

“And the complacency of fools destroys them.”  (Proverbs 1:32)

So sayeth the bible and, while most of us aren’t fools, we are complacent and we pay a high price for it.   According to one military aviation analysis, some 88 percent of so-called aviation Class A mishaps (fatalities, permenant disability or total loss of aircraft) involved overconfidence or complacency.  The FAA has listed complacency as the number two cause of human error incidents (behind lack of communication).

Most of the time we focus on complacency in workers.   The experienced hand who won’t wear his flame retardant clothing because he has never been involved in a flash fire.  the truck driver who doesn’t check the mirror before backing up.   Any experienced safety professionals knows that complacency can short-circuit all of the hazard controls we put in place and it is an every day struggle to  make workers realize that they can never take hazards for granted.

But increasingly, industry is concerned about complacency that starts at the top.   It goes something like this:

  1. Company institutes safety program.
  2. Company dedicates resources to communicate the program to workers through training, safety meetings and on-the-job reinforcement.
  3. Incident rates go down.
  4. Company officials congratulate themselves on their success.
  5. Company focus moves on to other areas.
  6. Major accident happens.

Sometimes this is called “risk tolerance.”   As incidents decrease, we become more comfortable with potentially unsafe activities because, after all, the incident rates show we are operating safely.   There is a very good article on this here.

Complacency can also be an industry-wide problem.    OSHA’s recent re-opening of the PSM rules and some officials’ statements indicate that the agency is afraid has happened in the chemical industry.   Some in the offshore oil and gas sector are concerned about that happening with the SEMS rule.    It is barely two years old and the worry is that some companies view it as a box to be checked instead of a model for continuous improvement.   It appears that was the topic of a recent conference

Sometimes complacency is called the “silent killer,”  perhaps because when we aren’t talking about safety we are at the most risk.


SEMS II – New Industry Interpretations

SEMS II kicks in in a little more than two months and oil and gas companies are gearing up to implement the changes.    In particular, there will be a number of new training requirements and processes to put in place.  Groups like the Center for Offshore Safety, API and the Offshore Operators Committee have been working to interpret the requirements so that the industry can take a consistent approach.

Those interpretations and the requirements of SEMS II are a major focus for our SEMS for Contractor Workshops.    We have just set up two new workshops for April in Lafayette and Houston.   The sessions will be held:

Tuesday, April 22nd – 8 a.m.  Lafayette

Register Here


Wednesday, April 23rd – 8:30 a.m. Houston

Register Here

We can also hold a special workshop at your company and focusing on your scope of work.

For more information contact me at or Phone: 985-789-0577.

Suds Safety – the Great Beer Flood of 1814

This year marks the bicentennial of the great beer flood of 1814, a process safety breakdown if ever there was one.  the London neighborhood of St. Giles was surprised to find  3,555 barrels of beer bursting from a vat at Henry Meux’s HorseShoe Brewery.

Historians believe eight died in a nearby tenement  as the suds cascaded through the narrow streets.   There is a very interesting recap of the incident and the safety lessons that it offers done by RTS, Reynolds Training Services, a UK-based industrial training company.   One of the most noteworthy things to me was that a company employee said that casks broke on a regular basis and, since there had never been a serious outcome, it wasn’t a cause for concern.   Read their posting here.

When WC Fields was told alcohol would kill him, he uttered the famous words, “Death, where is thy sting.”   Hmmmmm.

Time To Tackle The GHS Updates To Your HazCom Program

Last December was the deadline for training workers on the new Globally Harmonized System.   Now OSHA wants you to turn your attention to updating your Hazard Communications plan to include the new GHS approach.

This week OSHA released two new documents to help guide companies in meeting the compliance requirements for GHS:

OSHA says they offer employers “clear steps to create an effective hazard communication program — including a sample program and a quick guide to hazard communication training.”

Why the big push?  The transition to the international GHS standard has a number of deadlines.

  • December, 2013:   Companies had to train workers on the new GHS changes.
  • June, 2015: Manufacturers have to have their new labeling and data sheet completed.
  • December 2015: All shipped hazardous chemicals must use the new formats.

OSHA wants to make sure companies are staying ahead of the deadlines.

The training deadline was the part that everyone had their eyes on because it carried the threat of penalties if workers are not trained.  So far there has not been much word of OSHA fining companies that have not done the training.   However, An OSHA official told a conference last week that the agency’s enforcement division is developing a compliance directive on the standard.  That would guide OSHA’s enforcement actions against companies that didn’t bother to train.

Why the delay on enforcement?  Call it a gift for procrastinators.  It is not uncommon for agencies to give industry a short grace period when a new regulation comes out so that companies have a chance to come into compliance.

New Classes to Help You Meet SEMS II

SEMS II kicks in less than three months from now. Our classes will help you get ready to meet your customer requirements under the safety rules.

Just Added:  SEMS Workshop for Contractors

We have just set up two classes in April. The SEMS Workshop for Contractors takes a commonsense approach to explaining:
New SEMS II requirements
How to meet existing operator SEMS plans
Lessons from the 2013 SEMS Audits

April 18 – Houston
Register Here

April 22 – Lafayette
Register Here

SEMSReady Skills And Knowledge Classes

Under SEMS, many operators require contractors to evaluate their workers every year to make sure they are qualified. Our SEMSReady classes teach you how to create a skills and knowledge evaluation that can pass customer audits and meet industry SEMS guidelines.

Register Here

April 16 – Lafayette

April 17 – Houston


Five Ways For Contractors To Avoid SEMS Liability

lifelinelogoYesterday’s blog on the potential indemnity traps that operators and contractors may face under SEMS drew a lot of interest.  Here is the link it you didn’t see it.   Today, I want to look at five things contractors should do to help protect themselves.

First, the obligatory disclaimer:  I am not a lawyer.  This is not intended as legal advice.  Anyone who takes it as legal advice probably does other foolish things as well.

Now that that is clear, let’s look at a few ways contractors can help protect themselves:

  1. Say what you do and do what you say – Admit it; when you fill out an online safety questionnaire like ISNet or PEC, you don’t actually follow all the policies you say you have.  Saying you comply with a safety policy when you don’t is a recipe for disaster.  The single best defense you have if everything goes haywire is to have effective policies in place and make sure you follow them.   Easier said than done, but it is really important under SEMS.  To accomplish that you need a strong oversight and review process in place.
  2. Share bridging documents with safety, operations and legal – The bridging document is the foundation document that guides SEMS offshore.   Every time you sign one, you are committing your company to follow  specific rules.   Yet I find that frequently those documents never find their way to the safety  or operations managers, who need to know what those rules are.  That is asking for trouble.   Legal should be involved because the company’s agreement to follow the bridging document has legal weight.
  3. Make sure everyone who interacts with offshore operator customers understands SEMS – I find that companies typically hand SEMS off to the HSE department.  I suspect some make a conscious effort to not know anything about SEMS.    That is like covering your ears to make thunder go away.   Sales people, operations and administrative staff need to know about SEMS so that they don’t commit the company to things it can’t do under the rules.   (Full disclosure: I developed my SEMS Workshops for Contractors  to help widen the understanding of SEMS to the full company, not just HSE departments.)
  4. Create personnel evaluations that are defensible – Most operators require some kind of regular evaluation of worker skills and knowledge.  Every time you sign one of those evaluations for a company employee, you are exposed if there is an incident or if BSEE inspectors question that employee and find out he does not have the necessary skills and knowledge.  Your defense is to have a well developed evaluation system to focuses on objective quantifiable assessments.  (Again, full disclosure:  Our SEMSReady course was developed to help contractors develop an evaluation program that would hold up to audits).
  5. Turn your safety program into a safety management program – If you don’t have some system in place to manage your safety programs, you need to get one.  Otherwise you are simply trying to meet operator requirements with a patchwork of policies and procedures and hoping they don’t change their requirements.   Safety offshore has gotten very complex and the recordkeeping requirements are very demanding.   Unless you can make sure they are consistently followed in a systematic way, you are just reacting and the chances of missing something important are enormous.

As yesterday’s blog points out, SEMS may have fundamentally changed some of the legal responsibilities offshore and the courts may take some time to sort everything out.    In the meantime, contractors should do what they can to make sure they follow the policies they have committed to through MSAs and bridging documents.

Staying Out of SEMS Liability Trouble

I have suspected that SEMS was only about safety for about five minutes before it become about:

  1. Safety;
  2. Liability; and
  3. indemnification.

And not necessarily in that order.

So it was with great interest that I read an article called “The offshore Master Service Agreement” by Andrew M. Stakelum of King & Spalding LLP.   In it, Stakelum says that the standard independent contractor clauses and knock-for-knock indemnity provisions of Master Service Agreements have been around long enough that everyone involved knows how they will be interpreted by the courts.

However,  he says SEMS changes that in fundamental ways.  For one thing, the standard language addressing contractor independence has protected operators from some of the actions of their contractors.  He says

This language evolved from caselaw that generally held an operator was not liable for the negligence of a contractor in performing its work so long as an operator did not have substantial control over the manner and performance of the contractor’s work. This stated intent of the parties, when combined with an operator’s traditional “hands off” approach to contractors, would insulate the operator from a contractor’s negligent operations.

But under SEMS, Operators must take a very hands on approach, for example  dictating that contractors will have policies like Management of Change for their internal decisions.     Suddenly the existing legal interpretations may be open to re-examination.

Mr. Stakelum also says that the BSEE intention to cite contractors for Incidents of Noncompliance (INCs)  substantially changes the liability picture.   In layman’s terms, indemnification agreements usually have exceptions when the contractor is guilty of “gross negligence” and the parties to a lawsuit generally know what that means.   But now BSEE says it will INC a contractor “that engaged in egregious conduct.”    What is that?   It appears that there is no accepted legal standard for egregious conduct.  Future legal cases may change the terms of indemnification agreements.

It is tempting to look at this as the sort of legal navel gazing that keeps lawyers occupied but may not affect the majority of companies.   However, the moment you start changing legal thresholds for indemnification and liability, the insurance companies need to figure out how that affects their coverage and that is likely to cost every company that needs insurance.

Operators and contractors need to analyze how these changes affect their businesses.  In tomorrow’s blog,  I will look at what contractors need to do to protect themselves.