Deepwater safety

The serious issues of corporate governance and regulation in the shadow of the Macondo incident have not yet been addressed in the many post-accident studies that have been released.

On April 20, 2010, a joint BP-Transocean safety audit team boarded the Deepwater Horizon for an inspection of the safety practices of the crew and the condition of the facilities. The nominal objective of the inspection was to identify issues and conditions that could result in damage to the lives, facilities and environment.

Within hours after the safety audit team flew off by helicopter, the Macondo well blew out, eleven people died and a $1 million rig sank. How is it that this team of senior safety auditors missed all the evidence that a catastrophe was unfolding beneath their feet?

I take this to be a question on the level of seriousness as that of the integrity of the cement that failed.

The facile answer to the question is that safety, as a discipline and a concern, is divided into two parts: occupational safety, dealing with the slips and falls of employees, and process, or industrial, safety, dealing with conditions that could put the entire crew and facilities at risk.

What happened on the Deepwater Horizon is that members of the safety audit team focused their attention on the feel-good issues of occupational safety, chit-chatting with crew members, while they ignored the fact that a cement bond log had not been run, and that proof of cement integrity was problematic at best.

One measure to avoid a repetition of his situation would be to order, as a matter of regulation, that safety audits of industrial safety and occupational safety be carried out separately, by different teams.

Written by

George Baker

Baker & Associates offers niche-market business and policy intelligence related to Mexico's oil and gas, power and chemical industries. Over 1,000 reports have been issued in the last 20 years. Subject matter expert and publisher George Baker, who directs the firm, has carried out consulting assignments starting in the late 1970s at the height of the Oil Boom in Mexico. He brings bilingual and bicultural skill-sets to understanding and responding to challenges of business and public policy, coupled with a deep familiarity with the history and idiosyncrasies of the Mexican operating environment.

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