Video: Safety? Who Needs Safety?

If ignoring safety precautions was an Olympic event, this backhoe driver might take the gold medal.   I am pretty sure this is not how the manual says you are supposed to load the backhoe onto a truck, but you have to admire his approach.

Record Year For BSEE Fines

The U.S. offshore oil and gas industry is awash in INC!  Incidents of Noncompliance, that is.   The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement’s (BSEE) chief weapon is the INC, the penalty it can assess if an oil company violates regulations.   According to the agency’s statistics, BSEE used that weapon to assess higher fines last year than ever before.

BSEE Cases Resulting in INCsEvery time BSEE pulls out its INC pen, that is called a case.    INC’s may result in warning or in initial penalties that may be removed if the company addresses the problem.  However, BSEE may pursue the fine or, as a worst case, block the company from operating leases.  In 2014, BSEE took 53 cases all the way to the penalty phase.   That is not a record.  Back in 2000, 66 cases resulted in penalties.  The number of cases don’t really fall into any pattern over the last 15 years.    They may be affected by the business cycle, the randomness of incidents or changes in the regulatory climate.


However, look at the dollar amount and it tells a completely different story:

BSEE Penalties on The OCS

At roughly $5.7 million in fines, the 2014 dollar figure is nearly twice the next highest year’s total.   What caused the jump?  It is always possible that the cases represented more serious violations than in the past.   A chief cause may be that, after sitting at $35,000 per instance, the maximum fine was increased to $40,000 in 2011.  However, there was not such a dramatic increase in 2012 or 2013.

We might speculate that this represents an interest by BSEE officials in seeking the highest penalties in more and more cases.  That is certainly in line with OSHA’s approach in recent years.   There is an old saying about newspapers – “Don’t pick a fight with someone who buys their ink by the gallon.”   With BSEE you might say, ” Never pick a fight with an agency that buys their INC by the barrel.”


SEMS for Managers Workshop Overview

Logo & SEMS III have gotten some requests for more information on the SEMS for Managers Workshop.   The focus of the workshop is  to supply Managers who have some responsibility over SEMS with a plain-English explanation of the regulation and how it is being interpreted by the different Operators who work offshore.   Managers who work for Operators and Contractors have a number o responsibilities under the rules, whether it is the HSE elements or ones that touch on operations like procedures, management of change and mechanical integrity.

The written regulations are purposefully vague and confusing. This workshop is a common-sense look at SEMS that goes beyond   This class starts with the regulations, but also includes  the practical approaches that are being used offshore.  It incorporates BSEE statements on SEMS and the work product of groups like the Center for Offshore Safety.   As much as anything else, I use the perspective that has come from the dozens of students  who have taken other related SEMS classes I have taught for the three years.

The workshop includes the following:

  1. An overview of Safety Management Systems
    1. History and origins of safety management
    2. Why we have safety management 
    3. Common themes of successful safety management regimes
  2. How the SEMS regulations came into being
  3. The 13 elements of the original SEMS
  4. The additional items added by SEMS II
  5. how SEMS will be audited
    1. Why the first round of SEMS audits looked at different things than SEMS II
    2. Key differences between compliance audits and systems audits and why that is presenting a problem with the SEMS audits
  6. Contractor issues under SEMS
    1. Trends in Contractor SMS
    2. The potential for Contractors to be INC’d by BSEE.
Participants also receive a guidebook that discusses each element in more detail.
For more information contact me at


OSHA’s Focus on Texas, Houston to Be More Precise

osha_logo_pubIn the last week the agency has singled out a pair of businesses in the the Houston area for two whopping fines.   In the first case, a temporary worker from a Louisiana company was on a roof in a remediation project run by a contractor from Katy, TX.   The worker broke his arms after falling through the roof and dropping about 12 feet.  He told OSHA investigators that he had requested and was refused fall protection.  According to the OSHA announcement the main Contractor was fined more than $367,000 and the subcontractor was fined another $4,900.

In the second incident, a worker at a job site in Richmond, TX, about 30 miles outside Houston, was trapped when a trench collapsed.   According to reports, workers had to dig him out with their bare hands.   The announcement from OSHA says the Houston-based company was fined $424,000.

A few notable things abut these two cases.   First, the size of the fines.  No one died, yet the fines were steep.  Clearly, OSHA is warning industry that, even if a fatality does not take place, the high potential for a fatality warrants a high fine.

Second, they were both announced on the same day and the head of the OSHA, Dr. David Michaels, chose to hold a news conference about the infractions, saying ““Texas has more fatalities in the construction industry than any other state” and “It shouldn’t have to take a serious injury for a company to comply with the law.”    That is the top guy  sending a message  – Houston, you have a problem.

Finally, in the case of the fall from heights, one of the violations was that the company did not report the incident for three days.  Under OSHA’s new reporting requirements, any in-patient hospitalization must be reported within 24 hours (29 CFR 1904.39(a) (2)).  Here’s the interesting part, the new reporting requirement went into effect on January 1, 2015.  The incident happened about three weeks later, on January 25, 2015.   The fine for that one infraction was $70,000.  That is sending a message!

Video: NFL Player Demonstrates Heat Dangers

OK, so it is a video aimed at pet owners, it is put out by PETA and Tyrann Mathieu of the Arizona Cardinals is a better football player than he is an actor.  However, this video does get across the point that heat is dangerous in a dramatic fashion.  And how can you not like the Honey Badger doing a public service announcement about not leaving dogs and cats in cars?

This promo came out last week.  Cardinals Free Safety and former LSU standout takes one for the team, sitting in a car in the heats with the windows up for as long as he can stand it.  That turns out to be about eight minutes, long enough for the temperature in the car to reach 120 degrees, according to the video.   Might be worth showing at your next safety meeting.

OSHA Gets Serious About HAZCOM Changes

logo & ghsOSHA is taking four years to implement its changes to the HAZCOM standard to incorporate the international Globally Harmonized System (GHS).  The regulations lay out a timetable for industry to get on board with the changes, but so far, the missing element has been enforcement.   That changed this week when the agency issued its inspection procedures for OSHA officers.

Generally OSHA has tried to work with industry on voluntary compliance.  The rollout of the GHS changes was spread out over an extended period of time.  It began in December, 2013 when employers were expected to train workers on the changes that GHS brought to HAZCOM.   Last month, manufacturers and distributors were required to switch over their labeling and data sheets to conform to GHS.   Distributors have until December of this year to work through their old inventory and make sure that all chemicals they ship use the new system.  Employers must have their own HAZCOM plans updated by June of next year.

However, industry appears to be way behind in compliance.  GHS dramatically changed the way chemicals are classified. Interpreting how labeling information should be handled took longer than expected.   But the end result is that a lot of manufacturers and distributors missed the June deadline.

So now OSHA has released its inspection policies and procedures.   For anyone who knows OSHA, regulations don’t mean much until the agency tells field units how to enforce them.    The first bit of news is that OSHA is not going to be heavy-handed if industry is making a good faith effort to comply.  For example, if a distributor missed the deadline because the product manufacturer wasn’t ready, OSHA will be understanding.    However, the agency is clearly worried that, if any of the steps to compliance lag, there will be a domino effect and industry will miss the June 2016 deadline

Training – the Big Problem For Employers

The deadline on manufacturers and distributors is not that important for employers, but the guidance on inspecting for training is.   GHS is part of the employee “Right to Know” standard and OSHA’s expectation that workers receive proper training is well established.

The procedures tell inspectors or investigators what to look for to determine if proper training was provided.   It states that failure to properly train workers can be a categorized as a “serious” citation, meaning it caries a $7,000 fine per violation.  It also makes it clear that temporary employees must be trained as well.  

As an employer, did you provide the proper training on GHS, do you have a system to track that training and does it include a way to document that temporary workers were trained?  If you need help meeting these requirements, please feel free to contact me at


Update: Register by Next Week to Receive Discount on SEMS Training!

Logo & SEMS IIThe new SEMS for Managers workshop is specifically designed to help managers and supervisors understand SEMS and their responsibilities under the rules.   This one-day, highly interactive workshop puts SEMS into plain English and helps managers put the rules into common-sense practice.   It presents both the regulatory requirements of SEMS and a plain-language look at how the programs is actually being interpreted in the field.

Two workshops are scheduled for the beginning of August:

Tuesday, August 4 – Lafayette, LAClick here for more information.

Thursday, August 6 – Houston, TXClick here for more information.

The SEMS for Managers Workshop can also be held at your facility for your staff.   For more information, email or call 985-789-0577.

What is The Real Risk of Temporarily Abandoned Wells?

The headline reads:

AP Exclusive: Share of aging temporarily sealed wells grows

Sounds terrible doesn’t it?   The story goes on to look at the number of temporarily abandoned wells in the Gulf of Mexico:

—Twenty-five percent more wells have now stayed temporarily sealed for more than a year (up from 2,855 to 3,576) and  The number of wells equipped with temporary barriers for more than five years has risen from 1,631 to 1,895 — a 16 percent increase.

The article says 20 of the wells have been listed as “temporarily abandoned” since the 1960s.  It raises the danger that wells could leak and refers to the 2010 Macondo blowout, implying there is some connection between the risk from temporarily abandoned wells and the actual spill resulting form Macondo.

But is there?  Do temporarily  abandoned wells present a true threat?  Before we get into it, let’s be clear on a few points:

  1. No spills are acceptable.
  2. Industry has an obligation to remove idle iron.
  3. Small leaks seeping from temporarily capped wells can go unnoticed for quite some time and the volume can add up.
  4. A little oil on the water can create a very long slick.

However, as far as actual risk goes, is this really the problem that is implied by the report?  First, let’s remember why they were shut in in the first place – they were played out.  If there is not enough oil or gas to support commercial production, the potential volume that could spill is also limited.

Second, the spill data from the Gulf tell us what is actually happening in the field.  If the risk of a catastrophic spill was high, we should see some evidence in the statistics for spills in shallow water where almost all of the temporarily abandoned wells are located.  We don’t.   In 2012, there were eight spills of any type (crude, lubricant, coolants, etc.) that were greater than 50 barrels in the entire Gulf.  Only one of them was on the shelf and it was also the only crude oil spill.  Significantly it was a working production platform undergoing maintenance, not an abandoned well.   In 2012, there were 17 other smaller oil spills totaling 133 barrels, but the BSEE statistics don’t indicate what subset of that were plugged wells.  Even with this limited information, we can see that the data does not indicate a pervasive problem or even an increase in spills from temporarily abandoned wells.

None of this is to say we don’t need to remove wells that have outlived their usefulness.  However, a focus on a relatively small threat of a major spill ignores the real risk from decommissioning wells – people can get hurt doing it.  Idle iron may not be maintained adequately, creating its own risks.  Structure removal brings with it unique hazards. The incident history also indicates that a number of small spills happen during capping and removal; more activity, higher risk.

But an investigative report that wags its finger at BSEE for allowing so many temporarily abandoned wells offshore misses the point. BSEE’s focus really needs to be on ensuring that timely removal is done effectively and safely, not in rushing to remove them because of a spill risk that has been relatively modest.

USCG Rescue Diver Honored

Safety is about keeping people out of harms way, but every once in a while we hear about people who deliberately put themselves in harms way.   The International Maritime Organization has given its 2015 Award for Exceptional Bravery at Sea to a U.S. Coast Guard rescue diver named Chris Leon for a nighttime rescue of four men from a sinking ocean-going rowing boat during a race last year.   According to the proclamation, Leon fought 15 foot waves and 30 knot winds to rescue the racers from the sinking boat, Britannia.  He helped three of them into the rescue basket, where they were pulled up to the Coast Guard helicopter, but then the helicopter had to go back to base the refuel.  Long stayed in the water for another two hours with the remaining sailor until the helicopter could return and pull the man and Long to safety.

uscg rescueThe video in this news report doesn’t really tell the story, but it gives you some idea of how disorienting the nighttime rescue must have been.

As a friend who was in the Coast Guard once explained, the unofficial motto of the service is “you have to go, but you don’t have to come back.”  It comes from 1899 regulations of the old United States Life Saving Service:

“In attempting a rescue the keeper will select either the boat, breeches buoy, or life car, as in his judgment is best suited to effectively cope with the existing conditions. If the device first selected fails after such trial as satisfies him that no further attempt with it is feasible, he will resort to one of the others, and if that fails, then to the remaining one, and he will not desist from his efforts until by actual trial the impossibility of effecting a rescue is demonstrated. The statement of the keeper that he did not try to use the boat because the sea or surf was too heavy will not be accepted unless attempts to launch it were actually made and failed [underlining added], or unless the conformation of the coast—as bluffs, precipitous banks, etc.—is such as to unquestionably preclude the use of a boat.”

Thankfully that spirit lives!


New Workshop Brings You Up-to-Date on SEMS

Logo & SEMS IIAs industry gets ready for the next round of offshore Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) audits, some clear trends are emerging.   While nothing is certain, here is a look at some of the changes that may be coming:

  • New audit rules will shift focus to safety systems – Beyond whether your company is complying with SEMS, auditors will want to know if Operators have systems to ensure compliance.   As a result, operators are likely to want to see a Contractor’s systems as well.
  • Major Operator expected to adopt red light/green light system – At least one of the largest operators in the Gulf is making plans to check every worker at the helipad or dock. If workers haven’t met all the system requirements, they could be turned away.
  • SEMS for Contractors – Industry is considering a program that would guide contractors in developing a SEMS approach that applies to their unique operations.
  • Focus on areas for improvement – Audits and data analysis have determined some of the areas that need to improve.  Watch for these to become focus areas in Contractor management.

Are you ready for the changes?  Managers and supervisors at both Operator and Contractor companies have responsibilities under SEMS.  How is your company making sure they have the skills and knowledge on SEMS to make sure the company is in compliance?  How do they keep up with the latest government interpretations and industry best practices?

The new SEMS for Managers workshop is specifically designed to do that.   This one-day, highly interactive workshop puts SEMS into plain English.   It presents both the regulatory requirements of SEMS and a plain-language look at how the programs is actually being interpreted in the field.

Two workshops are scheduled for the beginning of August:

Tuesday, August 4 – Lafayette, LAClick here for more information.

Thursday, August 6 – Houston, TXClick here for more information.

The SEMS for Managers Workshop can also be held at your facility for your staff.   For more information, email or call 985-789-0577.