US CSB hearing on Macondo incident ends with safety discussion

25 July 2012 02:58  [Source: ICIS news]

HOUSTON (ICIS)--The US Chemical Safety Board (CSB) will draft its final report on the Macondo oil well explosion and fire in April 2010 in the next couple of months, its executive director Daniel Horowitz said late on Tuesday.

Later the CSB will issue a comprehensive report of all of its findings, including the reasons behind the failure of the Deepwater Horizon's blowout preventer, sometime in early 2013, he said.

A panel of offshore petroleum industry representatives discussed the use of process safety indicators and the best ways for developing them further to wrap a two-day forum held by the CSB at a downtown Houston hotel.

The unusual public hearing brought together representatives of the industry, labour, regulators and public interest groups to hear the preliminary results of CSB's investigation of the April 1010 explosion and fire at the Macondo oil well in the Gulf of Mexico, which killed 11 workers and injured numerous others.

CSB officials said that BP and Anadarko, the two key companies involved in the incident, put too much emphasis on personal reportable injury and illness rates as a measure of the operation's overall safety program.

They said the industry as a whole relies too heavily on "lagging" indicators instead of "leading" indicators that could point to problems before a major accident.

During an earlier panel discussion, Kenneth Arnold, an engineer with the firm WorleyParsons and chairman of the Committee on Effective Safety & Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) for Outer Continental Shelf Oil and Gas Operations, described the committee’s work evaluating companies' SEMS in the wake of the 2010 Macondo disaster.

Arnold said there seems to be wide agreement that "there should be an appropriate culture of safety as a primary concern."

He said his committee was unable to define a "suite" of key performance indicators that could be described as effective for process safety management, and so the committee took the position that it would not try to come up with them on its own.

Instead, Arnold said, the committee focused its work on trying to define and measure a culture of safety, noting that the industry often has "competing goals" of making profits and operating in a manner that minimizes risk.

Ian Whewell, director of the offshore division of the UK's Health and Safety Executive (HSE), a regulatory agency, outlined the HSE's major hazard management process, which uses a triangle-shaped key performance indicator scheme going from least to most critical, with the worst being the unplanned release of hydrocarbons.

Among the measures that the HSE was able to use as an effective warning flat was the rate of deferred maintenance on an asset like an oil rig, Whewell explained.

Jake Malloy, a veteran oil worker and organizer for Offshore Energy Branch, a labour organization, described the problems workers often encounter when dealing with health and safety issues, including the fear of retaliation from companies for reporting dangerous circumstances.

In the final panel discussion of the hearing, several industry officials, including from the US, the UK, Australia and Norway described differing regimes for developing and implementing key performance indicators.

Charles Williams, a retired Shell Oil executive who now serves as the executive director of the Centre for Offshore Safety, told the audience of that group's role, including developing tools for evaluating companies' SEMS programs.

The centre is an industry-funded organization that was formed as a response to the 2010 Macondo incident.

Williams noted, as others had previously in the hearing, that the centre is affiliated with the American Petroleum Institute, an industry trade and lobbying group.

But, Williams said, the centre has its own independent board consisting of a diverse array of stakeholders, including the U.S. Coast Guard and other governmental bodies.

Williams said there had been good discussion during the hearing about using key performance indicators as a way to measure the effectiveness of "barriers" to major accidents.

Performance indicators should be able to teach people in the industry about safety matters, and they should also be "actionable items," he said.

Bob Lauder, health and safety policy manager for Oil & Gas UK, described that nation's changes in its regulatory scheme following a disastrous 1998 rig explosion in the North Sea that killed 167 people.

The public outcry that followed led to a movement toward much more transparency in the industry, including making much of companies' performance indicator data online, Lauder said.


By: Ken Fountain



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