Judge: OSHA Short on Decency, Honor or Reliability

Michelle Lopez for NPR

It is common for OSHA to give companies a limited period of time to address safety concerns.  It is also common for OSHA to cite companies when an inspection turns up a safety violation.  But what happens when OSHA has a written agreement that sets a time-frame for a company to come into compliance and then fines the company for violations during the compliance period?

In the case of a shipbreaking company in Texas, it resulted in OSHA getting a stinging slap on the wrist from a judge.  In the case of Sec’y of Labor v. Int’l Shipbreaking Ltd., LLC,  Administrative Law Judge Patrick Augustine said OSHA had “fallen short of any standard of decency, honor, or reliability.”   The judge went on to use terms like “patently unreasonable,” “inconsistent,” “disingenuous,” and “an intentional misrepresentation.”    There is a very good write-up on the case by the law firm Jackson Lewis here.

What caused such harsh comments from a judge?   It appears that in mid-2013, the company reached a settlement with OSHA giving it 60 days to implement an electrical safety program, but two weeks after the agreement was signed, OSHA inspected the yard and cited the company for violations.   OSHA argued that, without the ability to inspect, the agreement was like giving a company a 60-day free ride to violate safety regulations.  The company argued that the compliance program was complex and took time to implement.  The judge agreed.

What’s the result for industry in general?   It is just one administrative court opinion, but it does open the door for companies to take a similar path if they are inspected during an agreed-to abatement period.   The point should not be lost that companies that take the settlement approach should not waste time in implementing their plans and should document them to be able to show progress toward the end goal.

One more thing – get a good lawyer.

Incidents Aren’t Statistics: Criminal Investigation Video

From The New York Times

Anyone who follows safety trends knows that construction and industrial accidents are resulting in criminal charges in more and more cases.   Safety professionals are well aware of the power that OSHA and other agencies have to cite and fine companies for violations.   But add these terms to the list: Manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment.

Those are the charges that a Manhattan District Attorney is leveling against a foreman and a superintendent who were in charge of a city construction site where a worker died.   Investigators say an inspector had warned the company that a 13-foot deep trench needed shoring.  The warning was allegedly ignored and it caved in on a 22-year old worker named Carlos Moncayo, burying him alive.

There is a good article on the accident here,  but even more striking is the TV news story that goes with it.   The sight of supervisors walking into court in handcuffs as the reporter describes “a construction site that turned into a crime scene” is striking.

It once again brings home how important it is to make sure that supervisors and managers understand the regulations and have the power to make sure things are done safely.  The only guaranteed defense is the prevent the accident from happening in the first place.

Are you training your supervisory personnel to handle the responsibility that goes with their jobs?  Contact us if you need training for your supervisors and managers.

SEMS Training For Offshore Workers

Logo & SEMSIn helping a client with some customer requirements, I was reviewing questions from one of the popular Contractor questionnaires concerning training.   If you are a oilfield service company, you have probably seen it.  It asks about training for offshore personnel in Operating Procedures, Safe Work Practices, JSA’s and Emergency Response and Control, among other requirements.

Here’s the problem – Operators have been very clear that awareness-level orientation is not training and yet that is what the vast majority of Contractors use to meet these requirements.   With yet another large Operator adopting a Red Light/Green Light program, where personnel who have not met customer training requirements may be stopped at the dock or helipad, having the right level of training is very important.

SEMS and API RP 75 actually require more than 15 different training topics for offshore workers.   Some, like HUET and water survival, are clear in how they must be delivered.  Others, like JSAs and Stop Work Authority, are undefined and Operators are increasingly frustrated at the lack of consistency.

At Lifeline Strategies, we hope to address that concern with a new class.  The SEMS for Offshore Personnel class will cover a dozen of the SEMS training topics with an interactive one-day session, that includes scenario and role-playing exercises.   Our goal is to address the information that offshore workers actually need to perform their SEMS-related duties.   The curriculum will also be flexible enough to include each company’s unique policies on topics.

If you are interested in learning more or setting up a class for your company, contact me here at kenwells@lifelinestrategies.com.

Four Things Oilfield Companies Need to Do (But May Not Be) During The Downturn

Rigzone just published a very thoughtful article from a trio of professors from Rice and Kent State University who looked at the impact of cutbacks on the energy sector.  Their basic points are that:

  • In the service sector, people provide the service and,without those people, core business suffers.
  • During the downturn in the 1980s, industry did long-term damage to itself by cutting too many and the wrong people.
  • Industry needs to be smarter about how it engages and retains its employees than it was in the last downturn.

They base their findings on extensive research on long-term shareholder value.  That study showed that “Long-term shareholder value is created only if firms consistently treat both customers and employees well.”

The problem is that many oilfield companies have to balance the need to maintain an effective workforce with the very real financial difficulties they face.  One of the main factors that companies need to weigh is how they address risk and, based on the research outlined in the Rigzone article, there is a substantial risk that a company will not have the human capital to compete in the service sector.

Let me suggest four things that a wise investments, even at a time when companies are trying to save every penny:

  1. Worker Engagement – The research is already very clear that an engaged workforce is one key to increased productivity and profitability for companies.   Employees will disengage if they believe their company’s approach to layoffs is arbitrary or ill-planned.  On the other hand, a shared sense of purpose and the idea that the company, its leaders and its workers are “in this together” can help hold engagement even during the toughest of times.
  2. Safety Culture – No matter how tight budgets get, companies cannot afford the perception that they are taking short-cuts on safety.   It is often said that all companies have a safety culture; it is just that some companies have good safety cultures and others have bad safety cultures.  Nothing creates a bad safety culture faster than the belief by workers that their safety is at risk because the company is in cutback mode.   On the other hand, a culture that is consistent from the C-Suite to the deck plate and shares the belief that the company can get the job done and make sure no one gets hurt has a strong advantage.
  3. Training – True, training is an expense during times of budget cuts, but it is also a cost-effective investment:
    • Training can improve productivity and can reduce incidents, which in turn saves money.
    • It is cheaper to train people for additional responsibilities than to hire new people.
    • Finally, when companies are hiring a lot of people, training entry-level employees can be inefficient because of turnover.  During downturns, more training dollars go into existing experienced workers, making it a more efficient use of the time and money.
  4. Skills and Knowledge Competency – This is the time to develop a system to evaluate workers on their skills and knowledge for a couple of very good reasons:
    • Right now, companies need their best workers and, if layoffs are necessary, they need to identify the least productive workers.   A good system for evaluating workers helps determine who is qualified to perform their job functions and that is very important right now.
    • While we don’t know when the downturn will end, we know it will.  Until then, every new hire is critical.  Once the business cycle returns, we know from history that injuries are likely to increase and productivity is likely to suffer as new hires are brought in.  A solid worker evaluation system helps make sure the right people are hired for the right jobs.

Lifeline Strategies focuses on helping companies keep workers engaged through a positive safety culture and in developing the mix of training, skills and knowledge it takes to meet the demands of the oil and gas industry.  Let us know if we can help your company in any way.

Tractor Vs. Truck Video: Not Quite Sure Why They Thought This Was A Good Idea

The concept was simple enough.  The truck was stuck.  The tractor could just latch onto a tow wire and pull it out.  It just didn’t turn out that way.

It appears in the video that the first attempt failed because the tractor couldn’t get traction on the roadway.  For some reason, they decided the solution was to just bring the tractor closer to the truck, with disastrous results:



OSHA Tackles Amputation Tragedies

All industrial injuries are tragic.  Lives may be lost; working careers cut short.  However, one incident announced last week was especially heartbreaking.  A 21-year old, just a few hours into his first day at the job,  was burned so badly on a plastic molding machine that he lost four of fingers.   OSHA, which views that as an ambulation incident, cited the Ohio employer and fined it $171,000.

The agency is stepping up its efforts to prevent amputations nationwide.  At the beginning of the year, it put new reporting requirements in place that said employers must report all amputations, loss of an eye or hospitalizations within a day.  Now it has updated its Instruction, National Emphasis Program on Amputations.  It means industries with higher than average rates of amputation incidents will be targeted for inspections.  Not surprising, manufacturing is high on the list.

The incidence of amputations in the workplace has gone down, but not nearly enough.   In 2005, OSHA said there were 8,450 nonfatal amputations.   In releasing the updated instruction,  OSHA said there were 2,000 amputations in 2013.

As if to highlight its focus, OSHA cited another employer just today for exposing workers to amputation hazards.

Offshore Cybersecurity: New BSEE/USCG Initiative

Every week seems to bring some new news on computer hackers or other cybersecurity breeches.  This week it was the revelation from the IRS that criminals may have accessed tax records for more than 300,000 people.  Last week it was word that hackers were able to break into the computer system of a moving Tesla electric car.

BSEE and the Coast Guard are trying to raise awareness that offshore computer systems are not immune to computer flaws.  Earlier this month, BSEE official Rachael Lipinski posted on the agency’s blog that officials are concerned about vulnerabilities in operator and service company IT systems:

In one instance, a drilling rig was overwhelmed by malicious computer software. The malware spread throughout the rig’s computers controlling its safety equipment and the rig was shut down for almost three weeks while technicians worked to clear the malware.

This echos comments by both BSEE Director Salerno and USCG Admiral Thomas at the Offshore Technology Conference where they talked about the vulnerability of sophisticated systems.  One of the point they made is that security from outside hackers is a real concern but not the only concern.  The reliability and compatibility of technology used offshore is a genuine safety issue.

The real surprise here may be that we haven’t had more serious incidents offshore. We have seen examples of  flaws in Dynamic Positioning equipment. Industry is trying to address some offshore safety issues through a heavier reliance on automation and improved technology.   This is an issue that companies need to start incorporating into their SEMS programs.   A quick read of the regulations on Mechanical Integrity makes it clear that MI isn’t limited to valves, pressure vessels and “physical” equipment.   Does your MI program address potential vulnerabilities in IT systems and computer software?


What Keeps Business Heads Up At Night?

It is very important for safety professionals to look beyond the narrow focus of HSE and understand the concept of overall risk.  If you want to know what the heads of businesses pay attention to, look at what costs them money.  It may be injuries or losses from unsafe acts, but it may be a host of other factors.   The main point is that identifying risk helps identify where the company should budget funds.

Every year Traveler’s Insurance produces a business risk index that ranks the trends that worry business leaders. HSE professionals may be disappointed to learn that safety doesn’t crack the top seven list of concerns.

It is no surprise that medical costs and employee benefits make the list. They are budget line item-expenses that are rising faster than inflation.

Most interesting are the factors that are harder to attach costs to.  Cyber risks/data breaches and the difficulties in attracting and retaining talents have moved up the list of concerns over the lasts few years.   Attracting talent may be an indicator that the improving economy is making this a priority again.

The most interesting thing to come out of the study is the importance of cyber risks.  This is clearly a growing national concern and each story of security breaches involving industry and government is bringing this to the forefront.  You can bet that this will receive more an more attention within companies as they struggle to protect their systems.

Safety starts to show up as a concern when you look at the individual industries.  It is number three on the list for construction and the ninth leading concern for transportation.

There are important lessons here for safety professionals.   If you want to make sure your company is investing in safety, you need to show how that investment addresses the risks that keep business leaders up at night.   That means making that case that a safer workforce reduces workers comp, lost days, regulatory compliance and the ability of your company to hire and hold on to quality employees.


What is a Safety Certification Worth?

Credentials like the Certified Safety Professional (CSP)  take work.  There are requirements for education and experience.  Then there is the exam.   Is it worth all the effort?  A new salary survey of safety professionals says it is worth about $22,000 a year more than what a safety professional with no certifications earns.

The survey was done by six safety groups that offer certifications.  It finds that the average pay for all safety professionals in the survey was $98,000. Seniority counts for a lot; Those with 25+ years experience make about $42,000 more than survey respondents with less than five years experience.

People in industry may be more interested in the salary calculator that is a part of the survey report.   Oil and gas pays the most for industries; Academics pays the least.

Of course it is no surprise that a survey by associations that offer certifications finds that certifications are valuable.  But there may be a few underlying messages that increase the value of having certifications:

  1. Safety professionals who are not active within the associations probably never heard about the survey, so they are under-represented.   The pay for workers who are not engaged in improving their professional knowledge may be even lower and the gap between them and holders of certifications may be even larger.
  2. Certifications often help safety professionals move up in management.  That also creases a gap with their colleagues who don’t work towards credentials.

Worker Death Raises Questions on Bee Awareness

beesShould your company have a bee awareness policy?   We may find out after Cal-OSHA finishes investigating a worker death in California.  The victim, working on a crew that was grading a field for a parking lot in Riverside California, appears to have disturbed a bee colony. He was stung multiple times and died.   No word on how many times he was stung or whether they were European honey bees or their more aggressive Africanized cousins.

According to a Cal/OSHA spokesperson, “investigators will consult experts on whether the contractor… should have anticipated the presence of bees and taken precautions.”   A lot of companies lump bees in with scorpions, recluse spiders, snakes, fire ants and every other type of wildlife into the unofficial category of “critter awareness” training,but most leave it up to the individual worker to keep an eye out.  The statement from Cal/OSHA implies the agency is looking at whether the company has a responsibility to survey the worksite in advance to see if there are bees.    We may find out when they finish their investigation.