Center For Offshore Safety Issues New Guidelines For SEMS Skills Verifications

The Center for Offshore Safety just made public new guidelines to help the oil and gas industry prove that offshore workers know how to do their jobs safely.   The Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS) rules are very clear in saying oil and gas operators need to verify that all offshore personnel (theirs and contractors) have the skills, knowledge and experience to work safely and effectively.   What has not been clear is how the industry is supposed to accomplish that:

  • Does it mean collecting class certificates?  That doesn’t prove a worker actually learned the material.
  • Does it mean sending a resume?   That shows experience, but doesn’t show how well an individual can do the job.
  • Does it mean sending a letter from the company that says, T-Joe has the skills, knowledge and experience to work safely?”   Seriously?

It is a real problem and many operators are trying to address it by requiring annual worker evaluations from contractors.  But that leaves contractors wondering what kinds of evaluations will be acceptable and leaves operators without a good way to figure out if the evaluations have real meaning.

For the last year the Center for Offshore Safety has been working on industry guidelines to help both operators and contractors.  Those guidelines have now been approved and made public.  They can be found here.    It is important for every contractor to read and understand these guidelines because these could very quickly become customer requirements.

I served as a member of the COS group that worked on the guidelines.  As a participant, I can say that the group members felt these were necessary and within the abilities of every company that works offshore.

But that doesn’t mean it is easy.  Companies will need to commit some time to making sure they are evaluating the right skills and doing it in a way that will survive an audit.

Lifeline Strategies and OQSG, a leader in the pipeline evaluation field,  have developed a program to help contractors.  We call it SEMSReady™.   It involves the options of classes, hands on assistance in developing programs and database management to track employee training and evaluations.    You can read an article that Rigzone ran on our program here.  If you would like more information click or email me at

From Culture to Safety Culture

What do you call someone who likes to spend time with musicians?

The Drummer!

IMG_20140201_105920That old joke came to mind yesterday when the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra held its first “Play Dat” concert, where they allowed amateur musicians to play with the professionals.  I dusted off my triangle and joined the percussion section for a day.  Banged the bass drum, clanged the cymbals,  stuff I hadn’t really done since college.


  • Because you need to do things that make you stretch your skills, especially if they are a little bit scary.    What’s scary about playing a few old tunes?  You don’t know what terror is until you crash the cymbals after everyone else has stopped playing.
  • Because whenever you have the chance to spend time with people who are ridiculously good at their jobs, you need to do it.  A professional classical musician has trained and studied his or her entire life to make this look effortless.

What does this have to do with safety? A lot, I think:

  • Coordination – Look at an offshore drilling rig.  A lot of different people doing a lot of different, highly-skilled jobs that must be coordinated with every other person working offshore.  Simultaneous operation planning, permit to work, safety meetings…those are all tools industry uses to help people work safely, but fundamentally, what keeps everyone safe is their ability to focus their attention on their task without ever losing sight of what the people around them are doing.  For example, we want a worker to carry his tools across the deck without getting squashed by a poorly rigged coxex box.    We use terms like situational awareness and teamwork.

In orchestras they call just call it musicianship.   Nearly 180 of us played together yesterday.  In an orchestra, everyone has a different job that requires different technical skills, but to do that job, they need to work seamlessly with the rest of the players.  They must synchronize their speed, their tuning and the way they play each note with precision.   You might say you use half your brain to focus on what you are doing and the other half on what the people around you are doing.

  • Mentoring and Leadership – People on job sites represent every flavor of experience, from expert to short service employee.  What we all have in common is that every one of us started as a new hire and  learned  about our jobs from our more experienced co-workers.   That is especially true on safety.   If veterans take new workers in hand and teach them the right way to work, based on real life experience, then that knowledge is transferred to the next generation.   If the veteran leaves newcomers to fend for themselves or, worse than that, makes them feel like they are too incompetent to ever learn, people get hurt.

Now let’s look at the orchestra.  Yesterday, about a quarter of the players were professionals from the symphony.   The rest of us were amateurs.   We made some huge mistakes, but that is when the pros would step in and guide us, usually by explaining or demonstrating how the part should be played.   They could have showed off or made us feel incompetent, but they didn’t. They kept the focus on the performance of the overall orchestra by helping each of us play to our full potential.

The conductor of the orchestra is the undisputed leader.  He decides what music you play and how fast you play it.   He expects you to  follow his lead so closely that you the players can change course with a literal wave of the baton.  But he never raised his voice.  During the rehearsal, he praised a lot and when we messed up  he understood that you knew we had messed up and gave us a chance to get it right without humiliating the guilty party.  How many of us wish all our bosses were like that?

  • IMG_20140201_120738Fear Vs. Pride – I save this for last because it may have been my biggest takeaway from the concert.  There are two basic ways to push safety.   We can scare workers (graphic pictures of accidents, threats to fire people who ignore safety rules) or we can stress the positives of safety (we take pride in our safety record and we work as a team).   Both approaches are necessary.  Sometimes people simply don’t change negative behaviors unless they understand the consequences of those behaviors.  But companies with great safety culture move beyond just scaring workers and instill a sense of pride in doing things right.   It is a shared value that makes people want to stay with a company.  One way to look at it is, if the man who invented fire only learned that it could burn him, we would never have mastered cooking.

Ok, I would be lying if I didn’t admit I was scared to death most of yesterday.   Scared I would play a wrong note.   Scared I would come in too soon.   All musicians feel a little of that.   But just not playing the wrong notes doesn’t make someone a musician.   You become a musician when you take pride in your ability and in your knowledge.   It is recognizing that, while you are just one of several dozen people, you are a vital part of the group and doing your job to the best of your possible ability makes everyone else better.   That’s the message and it is a vital one for a successful safety program.

Safety Culture – You Know It When You See It.

One of the most famous quotes to come out of the Supreme Court came when a Justice, asked whether something was or was not obscene, said, “I will know it when I see it.”  

A lot of things are hard to define, including “Safety Culture.”   It is very hard to say what constitutes a “Great Safety Culture,”  but it is clear that actions speak louder than slogans.   When I read this list of best practices by leading companies, by Howard Mavity, Fisher and Phillips law firm, all I could say was, “Wow! He nailed it.”

Here are my five favorites from his list:

  1. Project manager and superintendent bonuses depend on safety performance.
  2. Company and subcontractor incidents are investigated, and then the project team makes a presentation of the findings to management.
  3. “Stop work” award letters from the CEO are given to employees who take action to stop and correct an unsafe activity.
  4. After the first 250 hours of work, new employees are brought back through the process to see how they feel about safety and what the company should do differently in terms of bringing on new employees.
  5. Visit employees at home if they have been injured on the job.

The article lists 40 “best practices.”   A few may not be practical for your company, but all are worth considering.

What do you consider to be markers of a great safety culture?

Oil and Gas Fatalities – Drilling Into The Numbers

The numbers don’t lie.  Both hiring and fatalities oil and gas industry are way up.  Alarmingly,  the percentage of fatalities is rising faster than the percentage of new hires.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment in the industry rose 23 percent from 2009 to 2012 but fatalities were up by about 100 percent, reaching a high of worker 138 deaths in 2012.  See an article on the numbers here.

pick up truck crashSo what do we do about it? The first step is to drill down into the numbers.   According to a very good article in Safety & Health Magazine (appropriately called Drilling Down)“motor vehicle crashes are the chief cause of death, followed by struck-by incidents involving a tool or equipment.”   In fact, according to one government study of industry fatalities, nearly one-third of the deaths over a multi-year period involved vehicles.  You might think that increase is related to the number of 18-wheelers, especially with so many involved in fracking.  However, the largest category of trucks involved in fatalities are pickups, accounting for half the deaths.  From there, it gets pretty murky.  Were these company  or private vehicles?  Were they on the way to the jobsite or heading home?   Knowing those details would help address the problem.

But there are some more immediate conclusions that are worth considering.  The main one is, how are we addressing actual work-related hazards?  Companies use a number of tools to address safety on the job site – orientations, JSAs, stop work, lockout/tagout, etc.   But do those programs address driving hazards, which the statistics say is the most dangerous part of the job?   Perhaps we need to focus more training and safety meetings on driving safety.   Maybe we need to underscore that seatbelts are PPE, required whenever the vehicle is moving.

Above all, we need to determine whether there is a connection between the boom in employment the industry is experiencing and the even bigger boom in vehicles crashes.   It could be a sign that:

  • New and less experienced workers are at higher risk of crashes,
  • Companies entering the market have less effective safety programs (the stats seem to show that small companies have higher vehicle fatality rates per 100,000 workers), or
  • The expansion of drilling into new areas of the country has opened up a whole new range of concerns, including travel distances and fatigue.

One final thought on this topic – Could it be that a major causal factor is that companies and workers alike still think of “work” as only taking place on the worksite and we don’t focus on what happens before we get there and after we leave?



New Sessions Just Added For SEMS For Contractors And Surviving An HSE Audit Workshops

We have just added new dates for our two workshops: SEMS for Contractors and How To Survive A Customer HSE Audit.   

We already have one SEMS For Contractors workshop scheduled for New Orleans on Wednesday, February 12th.

In addition to that, we will hold workshops on both SEMS for Contractors and Surviving an Audit:

  •  Thursday, February 13th in  Houston.
  • Wednesday, February 19th in Lafayette

The SEMS for Contractors workshops have been very popular and are one of the best ways to get up to speed on the new SEMS II requirements that  kick in in just four months.    The How to Survive a Customer HSE Audit workshop is a new one that shares best practices from auditors and contractors on how to turn customer audits into a chance to let your safety program shine.

For more information on these and our other classes, go to our Classes and Workshops page.

OSHA Cracks Down On Temporary Worker Safety Compliance

OSHA has been very public in warning companies that use temporary workers that they have a responsibility for the safety of those workers.  OSHA is now showing it intends to back up its warnings with action.   On January 22nd, the agency cited a concrete company after the death of a temporary worker.  According to a public information release, the victim was working alone in a permit-required confined space when he was crushed by a malfunctioning piece of equipment.   The host company faces fines of more than $300,000 and, significantly, the staffing company that supplied the worker was not cited at all.   Given the number of outside workers in the oil and gas industry, companies need to pay close attention to this trend and review how outside workers are trained and oriented on host company safe work practices.   Read the release here.

Industry To USCG On Vessel SEMS: “No Thanks.”


uscg logo

The Coast Guard is making plans to create some sort of SEMS equivalent for vessels working in offshore oil and gas. The agency put out an Advanced Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on the concept in September and the public comment period just closed last week.   Public and industry comments can be found here and a quick review of them says industry is not in favor of the idea, to say the least.

The Coast Guard received more than sixty comment letters, including letters from a number of associations representing oil and gas companies, workboat owners and drilling companies.    They can be summed up as saying “no thanks” to the idea of a vessel SEMS plan.

Companies and associations representing OSVs and construction vessels made the point that most of their boats are covered by the International Safety Management (ISM) code and are routinely audited.  Additionally,  all boats that work offshore have some sort of bridging agreement with their oil and gas customers that outlines their responsibilities on SEMS.  The International Association of Geophysical Contractors, representing vessels that do surveys, made an interesting point – SEMS deals with offshore facilities and their work is done long before any “facility” is in place , so they don’t fall under the regulations anyway.

The comments of the drilling contractors were notable, especially since government regulators have said from the beginning that MODUs should have some sort of linkage to SEMS.   The letter from the International Association of Drilling Contractors says that the ISM code substantially covers the same ground as SEMS, but then makes the point that, if there is going to be some sort of safety management requirement specific to offshore operations, it should look at the “Safety Case” approach which was developed in the North Sea.

Of special interest were the comments of the oil and gas companies.  Individuals from operator companies have  frequently said in the past that their lives would be easier if everyone offshore had a SEMS plan.  That way everyone would share responsibility for making sure safety and environmental hazards are handled through the same process.   The comment from ConocoPhillips takes that general position, saying a vessel SEMS would help with aligning safety approaches.  

However, the two main groups that represent operators offshore, API and the Offshore Operators Committee come out strongly against a vessel SEMS requirement.   Generally, they appear to take the position that putting a Coast Guard SEMS requirement on vessels and having a BSEE SEMS requirement on operators could confuse things rathe than clear up inconsistencies.   

The Coast Guard will now have to cull through all of the comments and decide how to proceed.   This was the first step of the rulemaking process.  There would need to be a more formal outline of the concept in a  Notice of Proposed Rulemaking and a Final Rule before anything were to take effect.   The initial proposal made it clear that the Coast Guard is very serious about having some sort of SEMS on vessels, but the comments they received back make it clear that industry will fight over this one.


Come To Our Next SEMS Workshop and Get a Free Pass To Underwater Intervention

SEMS II kicks in  just five months from now and it includes five new training requirements.  As a contractor, are you ready?   The next SEMS workshop for contractors will be held on February 12th in New Orleans and a large part of our focus will be on SEMS II.  As an added bonus, participants will receive a free floor pass to Underwater Intervention, the premier event for the commercial diving and ROV industry.

This half-day workshop is the simplest, most easily-understood way to get your arms around the regulations that drive so much of the safety rules offshore.  For more information or to register contact the Association of Dive Contractors International at (281) 893-8388.


Read Our Announcement On SEMS Worker Evaluations

We made the public announcement of the SEMSReady™ approach to meeting oil and gas company requirements for worker evaluations under SEMS this morning.  You can read the announcement here.

Anyone familiar with SEMS knows that one of the biggest concerns has been the requirement that operators verify that their contractor personnel have the skills and knowledge to work safely and effectively.  That has driven many operators to require annual evaluations of contractor personnel and, until now, there have been very few programs that help contractors perform those evaluations in a way that can be audited.

SEMSReady™ addresses that concern through classes that teach contractors to create and execute evaluation programs, hands on assistance in setting up the programs and a database to document that evaluators are trained and that evaluations were done objectively.   Find more at 

What Is Offshore Safety Training Worth? Try $1.7 Million!

Sometimes we get so wrapped up in complying with safety regulations we forget that proper training for employees can become a factor in civil litigation as well.     For companies involved in offshore oil and gas, a key concern is the SEMS requirement that workers have the skills and knowledge to perform their jobs safely and effectively and that involves making sure they are properly trained.  Recently an appeals court upheld a ruling in a maritime case that improper training contributed to an incident.

The case, Marasa v. Atlantic Sounding, involved an injury on an anchor-handling vessel.  The original court found that the vessel was “unseaworthy” because  the crew was “incompetent for lack of training safely to perform the task at issue.”    In the Jones Act injury case w the court granted the seafarer $1.7 million.  This week that judgement was upheld by the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.   Thanks to Dennis Bryant for raising the case in his excellent maritime blog.

Time will tell whether training becomes a more common theme in injury cases offshore, but it could add importance to the need to evaluate workers to ensure that they have learned how to work safely and that they can demonstrate that knowledge.