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.

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