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BSEE op-ed: Industry must share data to identify trends, improve safety

Brian Salerno
Brian Salerno

(Editor’s Note: The following op-ed was provided to by BSEE on 5 May 2015.)

By Brian Salerno, US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

It has been a busy year for the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) leading into the 2015 OTC. Safety requires watchfulness. This entails looking at actual performance data and paying attention to trends. BSEE is very interested in what these trends tell us about the reliability of systems already in use and how people interact with technology.

Watchfulness also means searching out new sources of information, which can help round out our understanding of risks. Once a clear picture emerges, we then have the opportunity to do something constructive with it. This may involve revisions to the way we do business, or it may involve working with others to develop new solutions to observed safety problems. Sharing what we learn is, therefore, key to safety improvements.

It is in this spirit that BSEE released its first Annual Report. The report was developed to share our safety observations for OCS activities. The information contained within the report has helped identify areas that have improved over the past several years, as well as highlight areas that require further improvement.

The report contains information as of the close of calendar year 2014 but includes comparisons to previous years in order to provide an indication of safety and environmental trends. The full report is available on our website, and we hope that you will find it useful. We look forward to your reactions and suggestions for making future reports even more useful. It is intended to be the first of many periodically issued reports.

Here is just a glimpse at what the report shows.

  • Having just passed the five-year point following the Deepwater Horizon tragedy, there has been a lot of focus on offshore fatalities as an indicator of whether we have become safer. Sadly, the data in our report shows that there have been just as many offshore workers lost in the years since Deepwater Horizon as were lost on 20 April 2010. Although the overall numbers are trending in the right direction, we are not at the point where we should conclude that we have done enough. After all, we are talking about people, not numbers. And with people, even one fatality is too many.
  • Only one fatality occurred in 2014, which was the lowest number of fatalities in the past eight years. Last year’s fatality happened on a platform that was not in production and was going through routine maintenance. It was a stark reminder that risk is ever present throughout all offshore activities.
  • While fatalities have been decreasing over time, the number of injuries has actually been increasing since 2010. Our view is that this needs to improve. There were well over 250 reportable injuries on the OCS in 2014, and those are just the ones that we know about through the mandatory reporting.
  • Another significant safety indicator is the frequency of incidents involving losses of well control. Overall, the number has increased – with a sharp rise in just the past three years. Fortunately, none of these resulted in fatalities, but each incident carries that potential, along with the risk of environmental damage. Overall, there has been an average of six incidents per year between 2007 and 2014, with the majority occurring in shallower water. This underscores the fact that risk management is just as much a consideration in mature fields as it is on the frontiers of technology.

Overall, our interest in producing the report is motivated by a desire to take the temperature of the OCS from a safety perspective. Reportable data, which is what is reflected in the report, has always been our primary source. However, reportable data, while extremely useful, is not the whole story. We are increasingly interested in tapping into safety-related information that is not required to be reported, as a supplement to the information that is being mandatorily submitted. This would provide a more complete understanding of system reliability, human factors and risk. To help achieve this, we will soon launch a near-miss reporting system called SafeOCS.

Near-miss reporting is not a new concept. Many companies already do this for their own internal improvement. Other industries, such as aviation, have established systemwide confidential reporting systems to great effect. A comparable system for the OCS could yield similar benefits.

The full website, including online reporting tools, will be running within a month. However, a SafeOCS reporting line has been activated and is ready to receive calls and take safety information (1-888-SafeOCS).

The system is completely confidential. Reports go to a third party – the Bureau of Transportation Statistics – which is empowered to provide anonymity to the reporting source. Even BSEE will not have access to reporting source information. All we will see is aggregated data –  trends that will help round out our understanding of offshore risk and help us focus our engagement efforts with industry.

The aviation sector approaches the near-miss process with this saying: “Information is helpful to all and harmful to none.” That is the same spirit that will characterize SafeOCS.

The system is voluntary. Individual OCS workers, companies, contractors and subcontractors are encouraged to submit reports to help broaden our collective understanding of offshore risk.

As part of this effort, we are currently working with the Society of Petroleum Engineers to host an industrywide summit on the sharing of E&P safety data.

Safety information is most useful when shared. The BSEE Annual Report, SafeOCS and regular interactions among OCS stakeholders all contribute to shared awareness and overall risk reduction. We are hopeful others will join us in this effort and contribute towards keeping our OCS safe, clean and productive.

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