Offshore operators have, by and large, finished their first round of SEMS audits. There will be lessons learned and adjustments to be made but the big question is: What will BSEE expect from the next round of audits? This round tended to focus on audits of operator management systems, rather than compliance or performance (meaning whether the operator’s SEMS was in place, rather than whether every piece of the plan was being met).
However, that may change. Some months ago, Chuck Simpson, owner of WorkSafe International and one of the more respected auditors in the Gulf, pointed out to me that the new SEMS II revision adds some new language on the audit requirements. It says audits “must also identify safety and environmental performance deficiencies.”
From an audit standpoint that could be a huge change, potentially requiring extensive on-scene physical audits and evaluations of contractor records. While no one argues that the goal of SEMS is to control the potential for safety and environmental incidents, audits of safety management systems tend to focus on the systems level. How a company addresses incidents and near misses is usually viewed as a process at the systems level. In other words, if something goes wrong, does the company adapt its system to prevent the problem from happening again?
The Center for Offshore Safety’s (COS) Program Manager for Audit Accreditation, Om Chawla, spoke at the Offshore Safety and Workforce Capability Assurance Conference this week and I had a chance to ask him about the change. He said COS is very aware of it, is concerned that it changes the focus of the audit process and is in dialogue with BSEE to see what the agency really intends.
I realized that this applies to safety as well. A lot of people have come up with their own version of some safety advancement and the natural thing is to try to “protect the brand,” but in reality, every step forward we take in safety builds on some advance that someone else did somewhere else. So maybe we need to admit that and, if we are stealing, let’s steal from the best.
Just a few concepts from the book that may apply to this process of taking the best of what is around us to develop our own programs:
Don’t think for a minute that you are coming up with some great program that no one has ever thought of before.
“There’s nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Don’t worry about what safety initiatives are good or bad; the test is whether you would want to use it. Or as Kleon says “there’s only stuff worth stealing, and stuff that’s not worth stealing.”
A great idea isn’t worth much if it isn’t being used and you might as well be the one to use it.
“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. but since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” (Andre Gide)
“It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.” (Mark Twain)
There is another way to look at all this. If company A has a better lockout/tagout policy than company B, doesn’t company B have a duty to its workers to adopt the better program? Is that stealing or being responsible?
That is not to say safety professionals shouldn’t get paid for their work and the programs they develop, but it is saying we should not ignore other safety initiatives just because we didn’t think of them first. We often hear that safety shouldn’t be a secret. This concept moves it one step forward. Safety needs to be stolen.
Should vessels have Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) plans that align with their offshore oil customers’ SEMS plans? On September 10th, the Coast Guard published an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (ANPRM) which would require SEMS plans for certain vessels working on the Outer Continental Shelf.
This may be one of the most significant regulatory changes facing the vessels that work in the oil and gas world. the Coast Guard says it “intends for this SEMS to be developed and implemented by the vessel’s owner or operator and compatible with a designated lease operator’s SEMS required under Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) regulations. The Coast Guard seeks comments on whether a SEMS that incorporates the management program and principles of API RP 75 is appropriate for vessels engaged in OCS activities, would reduce risk and casualties, and improve safety on the OCS.”
The rule could affect 2200 vessels:
1,800 Offshore Supply Vessels (OSVs),
125 other vessels.
What’s behind the proposal?
Probably a lot of things, starting with the need to align MODUs with SEMS. SEMS is centered around managing safety and environmental requirements on facilities. On drilling projects, the operator has to have the SEMs plan but the facility is a MODU, and much of the facility-specific information is under the control of the drilling company. Both BSEE and the USCG want to make sure there is no disconnect between the operator’s SEMS and the driller’s safety program. By taking the lead in requiring MODUs to have SEMS plans, the Coast Guard may be sidestepping an inter-agency squabble over whether which agency controls safety on the vessels.
But there is more at stake with this rulemaking because it affects more than just MODUs. The reasoning for the Coast Guard is that the ISM code is not specific to offshore energy sectors, “this Code assumes a vessel’s mission is international transportation of cargo, not OCS activities.” Translation: ISM fits some but not all of the safety framework of offshore operations. For example, many crew members on an offshore construction vessel are not “seafarers” under STCW. The Coast Guard wants to close those gaps.
Finally, there is a deeper reason for this proposal. The Coast Guard regulations have not kept up with technology. The last revision to the Subchapter N regulations governing OCS safety came out before the first deepwater facility was even in production. Today, a lot of well activities are done on the ocean floor by workboats using ROVs. These boats fall into a regulatory shadow, largely outside the direct authority of BSEE and beyond the expertise of most Coast Guard personnel. The proposal would be one way to oversee those operations and provide the regulatory muscle to make sure operator SEMS and vessel safety programs are in line with each other.
An ANPRM is the first step towards a new regulation. It is when the agency asks industry and the public what the future regulations need to look like. In this case, the public comment period is open until December 9, 2013. Industry needs to take advantage of this opportunity to have its say.
New report on Decommissioning in the Gulf of Mexico – $1.3bn and $1.7bn spent on P&A work last year. An eye-popping figure. Apache leads the pack in money spent to remove structures. The report comes from Prof. Mark Kaiser of LSU, who has become one of the top experts on the impact of decommissioning work. Here is a story about the study.
SEMS came in response to a drilling accident, but this is a reminder that so much of the work in the Gulf is decommissioning (and with a lot of work comes a lot of risk).
That is not true in Louisiana where, for some reason, struck by deaths have been the number one cause of death at worksites. Last year, 24 workers died from struck by incidents in the state. OSHA officials discussed the problem and their initiative to address it at the Louisiana Governor’s Safety & Health Conference held in Baton Rouge this week. They said they worked closely with industry, especially in the construction trades, to address the problem. The results are impressive and encouraging. Where last year, there were 24 struck by deaths in Louisiana, so far for 2013 there have only been five. It is no longer the leading cause of death for workers in the state. Five is still too many, but the improvement is remarkable.
The important thing about this effort to reduce struck by incidents is that it appears to have been done with a high degree of cooperation and without a lot of headlines or adversarial finger pointing. Initiatives like this ought to be the model for how government and industry can work together to tackle a safety problem.
I took a quick look at my TWIC card today and realized two things:
It expired today.
Still glad I lost the mustache. It just wasn’t working.
We haven’t heard much about TWIC cards lately, but I am betting that a lot of us had our cards expire recently. TWIC Cards were valid for five years and the roll-out for implementation started in 2008, in other words five years ago. They are required at most port facilities and by anyone holding a merchant mariner document, but a lot of facilities also required them (pretty much because it was a cheap way to get the government to do a background check on everyone who came on site). As an indication of how many offshore workers got TWIC cards, Port Fourchon was one of the busiest ports for TWIC applications for a period of time. It was also the site of the only two known cases of workers trying to falsify TWIC cards.
For people who got their cards in that first wave and now find they are expiring, there is an extension process you can read about here. It gives you three more years for $60, but you have to apply at least 30 days before your current TWIC expires. The initial plans to have TWIC readers at ports and certain vessels has largely faded away because of problems with the reader system. However, it doesn’t look like there is any chance Congress will stop TWIC card requirements for individuals.
And there is a connection to SEMS. Don’t forget the Management section of SEMS requires all operators to make sure facilities are “in compliance with all applicable governmental regulations.” So better check those expiration dates.
And note to self: never, ever, ever grow the mustache back.
According to information on the BSEE website, the agency is following through on its threats to fine contractors. In the past, BSEE only assigned Incidents of Non-Compliance (INCs) to oil and gas operators, but last summer it issued an interim policy, Issuance of an Incident of Non Compliance to a Contractor, which said “BSEE will, in appropriate circumstances, issue incidents of noncompliance (INCs) to contractors for serious violations of BSEE regulations.”
Now nine months into the year, BSEE’s website section on penalties indicates that, of seven INCs leveled against companies in 2013, four of them have been to contractors. The number may actually be much higher, because BSEE only publicizes the INCs that it writes as a result of incidents, not inspections. So the agency is most definitely following through on its threat to hold contractors accountable for what BSEE considers to be safety or environmental lapses.
This is not a minor issue to contractors either. Penalties can run up to $40,000 per violation, per day, not to mention the harm it could do to a contractor’s relationship with its offshore oil and gas customers.
However, it is possible that the BSEE INCs to contractors may not stand up in court. One of the contractors that received an INC is challenging the penalty,
arguing that the agency does not have the regulatory authority to INC contractors. BSEE disagrees. It may be up to an administrative law appeals process to sort it all out. But even if BSEE loses this round, many believe that it could still impose INCs on contractors at some point in the future, as long as it goes through the process of developing regulations on contractor INCs and allows the industry and public to make comments.
Bottom line: Did anyone need another reminder that the costs of failing to have a strong safety and environmental management approach are too high to ignore?
Government Statistics show a preliminary total of 4,383 workers dies on the job in 2012, a drop of more than 300 from the year before. But the stats show a dramatic rise in oil and gas fatalities. There were 138 fatalities at drilling and production facilities, and increase of 23%. We have a lot of work to do!
We are now nearly two years into the new SEMS rules. Are we better off? Participants at a conference this week weighed in. I had the pleasure of moderating a panel on contractor safety under SEMS at the Offshore Process Safety Conference held in Houston last week. The participants were:
• Heather Corken, Partner, Bracewell & Giuliani
• Steve Langlinais, Global QHSE Manager, Greene’s Energy Group
• Rick Bui, Vice President HS&E Sr. Baker Hughes
• Kevin Graham, Director of Compliance, M&H Energy Services
• David Dugas, Sr. EH&S Specialist, Apache
Probably the most knowledgeable group I could imagine on the subject of what contractors need to do under SEMS.
One thing we did as a part of the session was to survey the audience on whether they thought SEMs had made offshore safer and what they would change about SEMS. Here are the results: 66% say yes, SEMS has made offshore oil and gas safer 33% say no it has not.
An admittedly small and very unscientific survey, but some of their answers to the second question, are worth repeating:
On the second question (What would you change about SEMS?) here is what they said:
“Include design standards.”
Give us more “examples of ‘good ’and ‘ bad’ from BSEE”
“Assure that people doing work offshore are knowledgeable enough to ensure that they prevent harm to people and/or to the environment” (That was from an audience member who said SEMS has not made us safer).
“Clearer guidelines on ‘required’ offshore training.”
“Accept it and get on with it, you are 20 years behind.” (Needless to say, that was from someone who said SEMS has made us safer).
What do you think? Safer? Not safer? What would you change?