Two Articles About Safety Every Small Business Owner Should Read

Here’s the typical storyline for a small business – Someone has an idea and a passion and they turn it into a business.   With hard work, skill and a lot of luck, the business grows and the owner hires a few people.   Putting a real safety program in place takes time and distracts the owner from the things he wants to do with his business, so chances are he lets them slide.  Companies can go years without a true safety program.    I know one company that has gone 30 years like that.  Works great, at least until someone gets hurt, OSHA comes calling or a customer cuts them from its vendor list.

If you know a small business like that, here are two articles you need to share with them:

The Real Value of Making Your Workplace Safe – In this article,author Joe Worth looks at safety as a cost-savings measure and does a great job of showing how a lackluster approach to safety eats into profitability.

What Every Entrepreneur Should Know About Worker Safety – Author Phil LaDuke looks at the big picture of how  accidents can cost companies in ways that an owner might not consider, including the toll it takes on customer relations, insurance rates and company image.

The bottom line is that most entrepreneurs didn’t start their businesses to spend their time worrying about safety meetings, PE and paperwork.   I would say that most of the small business owners I know:

  1. Feel a lot of loyalty to the employees who helped them build their businesses and would never knowingly put them at risk.
  2. Consider OSHA compliance to be a lot of red tape and a pain in the neck.

The problem is you can’t separate those two pieces.   Doing right by employees means taking responsibility for their safety and, the fact is, that means following the rules when it comes to safety.



UPDATE: Chemical Safety Board To Hold June 5th Hearing On Macondo

The Chemical Safety Board has finally released details on its planned public meeting on the Macondo accident.   As reported on this blog in April, the CSB will hold the meeting in Houston on June 5 to vote on parts of its accident investigation results and to take public comments.  The meeting will be held at the downtown Hilton Americas hotel from 4-7 p.m.   Details in the Federal Register are here.

The CSB is a fairly new agency and has its own way of doing things, including announcing a meeting just one week before the date, holding it in the middle of Houston rush hour and inviting public comments on a report that has yet to be made public.

That said, the results should be noteworthy and may include a new theory of what actually caused the BOP to fail during the incident.

Marijuana In The Workplace: Dude, You’re Harshing My Mellow

Could the legal questions over marijuana in the workplace get more confusing?  In a word, yes.

When Colorado and Washington legalized its recreational use, it meant that workers could use the drug without violating state laws in one location, then return to work and be fired for testing positive.     (Marijuana use is still against federal law, but the U.S. government has so far declined to enforce that law there or in the 21 states that allow the use of medicinal marijuana).

The best advice to companies is to be very clear with its employees on its drug and alcohol policies and to train supervisors to recognize signs of impairment.

But now things have gotten a little more confusing.  According to an article in the Safety News Alert website, a state appeals court in New Mexico has ordered a company to pay for an employees medical marijuana under workers comp.

The company reportedly argued that requiring it to pay for medical marijuana under state law would force it to violate federal law.   However, the appeals court said that the Department of Justice has made the official policy decision to not enforce the law in cases of medical marijuana and determined that the company needs to pay.

So how soon will a court decide that marijuana use is a “reasonable accommodation” under the Americans with Disabilities Act?

Offshore Safety Group Launches First Newsletter

One of the recommendations that came out of the Macondo accident was that an independent group should be created to provide advice on offshore oil and gas safety.  Based on that, BSEE set up a partnership with Texas A&M to set up the Ocean Energy Safety Institute (OESI).  That organization is up and running now.  It put on a risk forum in May and has a July conference on data sharing and safety.

Now the group has released its first newsletter.   It covers the organization and announces the new director, Jim Pettigrew, formerly a navy captain.  The link is here.

You may want to bookmark the site for future newsletters.  A&M’s Mary Kay O’Connor Process Safety Center, which is guiding the new group, has done some important work in the past and will probably be a force in offshore safety in the future.

Lessons From Nature – Always Buddy Up!

Maybe this will work for your next safety meeting.  Maybe it won’t.  But if you want to drive home the need for workers to make sure they have back up whenever they work  around hazards, here are a couple of videos from the world of nature to drive home the point.

The first one involves a bear cub that gets stuck on the wrong side of a highway barrier.  Not exactly a confined space, but it makes the point:


The second one is a little older, but is awesomely amazing, maybe the rescue of the year involving a pair of dogs on a busy highway:


Contractors: Meet SEMS Skills & Knowledge Requirements With SEMSReady

Our classes & one-on-one assistance focus on helping contractors.

SEMS says operators must verify that contractor personnel have the skills and knowledge to do their jobs safety and effectively.   For most contractors, that means tracking training and doing annual evaluations. The Center for Offshore Safety has released guidlines for Skills and Knowledge Management Systems. Click Here for a copy.  Our SEMSReady program can help you in two ways – classes and help developing your program.


SEMSReady classes teach you how to set up a training & assessment program and how to perform objective, auditable worker evaluations.   The SEMSReady approach is based on evaluation techniques that have been developed and used successfully in the pipeline industry.
Come to our next classes to see what we can offer:

June 24, 2014: Houston, TX
June 25, 2014: Lafayette, LA

Learn More & Register

One-on-One Help

Need hands on help?  Our step-by-step process can help you create a skills and knowledge management system to track all of your training and perform evaluations that meet operator requirements.   We can also supply you with a database to manage your program.   For more information contact: Ken Wells or (985) 789-0577

Joint USCG/BSEE Warning On Vessel Loss Of DP – Shape Of Things To Come?

The Coast Guard and BSEE issued a joint safety alert on May 21 concerning a vessel that lost position when its DP failed.  Read the alert here.   Specific details are typically sketchy on safety alerts.  This one says the vessels was involved in “well operations that introduced hydrocarbon flow from a well to the vessel,” when the dynamic positioning failed and the vessel went off station.  The crew successfully disconnected and there were no injuries or pollution.  It appears that the vessel was doing maintenance on the circuit breaker system when the failure occurred.

Other than a reminder to all companies to do maintenance on time and not while performing critical operations, what makes this alert so noteworthy is that the two agencies issued it together, “to highlight the interaction between a vessel’s Safety Management System (SMS) and a leaseholder’s Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS).”

In other words,

  • The Coast Guard is warning vessel owners to make sure they meet the requirements of their ISM plans by doing maintenance in a timely manner and under noncritical conditions, and to anticipate potential system failures;
  • BSEE is warning operators that they need to factor in the potential for DP failures into their SEMS plans and require vessels to address it under their safe work practices; and
  • Both agencies are saying that the interaction between vessel safety management and SEMS needs to mesh.

It is also noteworthy that BSEE believes it has authority over vessel operations when they directly involve interaction with a covered facility or, as the alert puts it BSEE and the USCG share  “jurisdiction over vessels that perform this type of OCS activity.” That is probably news to most vessel owners in the Gulf who strongly believe that the Coast Guard is the only agency that has jurisdiction over their operations.

What does all this mean?   For one thing, the agencies are working together to make sure this kinds of incidents don’t slip between the cracks of their jurisdiction.    For another, BSEE is clearly sending a message to operators that their SEMS plans must anticipate and control the actual hazards that could put their offshore operations at risk.   That will take a high level of coordination between operators and contractors to identify, address and document safe work practices.


Investigation Uncovers Major Gaps in State Pipeline Safety Programs

The U.S. Transportation Department Inspector General has taken a hard look at the way the agency oversees grants to states for pipeline safety and the results aren’t pretty.    According to the investigation report,  the IG’s office picked five state programs and looked at more than 400 program requirements.   It found 135 non-compliances.    Those included not having data to track whether inspections were done within required timeframes, failing to establish minimum qualifications for inspectors and lacking guidelines for risk factors for pipelines – a pretty important consideration since about 20% of the nations pipelines are more than 50 years old.

Why is this important.  For one thing, between 2008 and 2013, funding for these grants more than doubled from $19.5 million to over $46 million.  The report makes it clear the government doesn’t know exactly how that money is being spent.  The immediate driver of the investigation was a  2010 explosion on a San Bruno,California   natural gas pipeline that killed eight, injured 58 and destroyed 38 homes.

The agency says it is trying to address the problem.  PHMSA, the office that has authority over pipeline safety is looking at a number of changes, including pushing safety management programs for pipeline operators and possibly reopening the rules on Operator Qualifications.

EPA Takes First Step On Road To Requiring Fracking Reporting

The Monday, May 19th Federal Register has a brand new Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM)  from the EPA on reporting and analyzing fracking chemicals.  You can find the link here.   EPA has danced around the issue for quite some time as environmental groups argued that public disclosure was needed and industry argued that states should regulate fracking within their borders.

EPA says it took the step of initiating the rulemaking because of a petition from the environmental nonprofit, Earthjustice and 114 other groups.   The petition was actually sent to EPA in 2011.  Why launch the rulemaking process now?   Perhaps because it allows the administration to show environmentalists in the democratic base that it is doing something without actually doing very much, since an ANPRM is 2-3 steps away from an actually regulation.

Which is not to say that industry can sit back.  An ANPRM involves a number of open-ended questions where the agencies seek input from industry and the public.    Not responding to the process at this point is like saying an industry isn’t interested in working with an agency or that the industry really doesn’t have an opinion.

So you can expect the different industry groups to respond.  Companies should also respond because it will take a lot of input to produce a result that makes sense.