Guest Editorial: BSEE – Safety must permeate all levels

Posted on 16 July 2012

By James Watson, director, US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

James Watson, director, US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement

As anyone who works on the Outer Continental Shelf knows, offshore safety is everyone’s responsibility. Every company, every worker, every day. At this year’s Offshore Technology Conference, I unveiled the slogan my bureau adopted that embodies this vision: Safety at All Levels, at All Times. This phrase is much more than a slogan. It is our guiding principle.

Safety must be ever-present in all phases of offshore operations, not just when an inspector is present. It must affect every function, permeate every process and influence every decision. It must be culturally grounded in, and owned by, each individual involved in the operation. It is to this end that we are focusing our efforts and setting our priorities for the coming months.

We have made great strides during the past two years in enhancing safety standards, strengthening regulations and bolstering our inspector work force, but there is more work to do if we are to keep pace with a dynamic and cutting-edge industry.

We need to build and sustain the organizational, technical and intellectual capacity that keeps pace with technological improvements, innovates in regulation and enforcement, and reduces risk through systemic assessment. And we must continue to use the full range of authorities, policies and tools available to us to compel safety and environmental responsibility in all aspects of offshore energy exploration and development.

We are finalizing the Drilling Safety Rule and enhancements to the Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) Rule. We recently held a public forum to discuss next-generation technology for blowout preventers, and we are hard at work developing regulations to enhance the reliability of those critical systems. We are also working on a proposed rule to update the regulations for production safety systems. We are investing in training, hiring additional engineers and inspectors, and modernizing our Information Technology infrastructure to improve the efficiency of our operations. We are working with industry and interested stakeholders throughout the country to ensure we are focusing on all critical safety components and that we continue to track and adapt to the ever-changing technologies being employed by the industry.

Our engineers and inspectors are among the world’s leading experts in offshore energy development, and they are committed to public service. We are all passionate about offshore safety, but we can only do so much. We can promote a culture of safety that goes well beyond a checklist and measures performance, but we cannot instill that culture in offshore workers. Everyone in the industry, at all levels – from the CEOs to the companymen to the deckhands – must take ownership of their own safety.

This responsibility extends to contractors. We are holding everyone accountable for their actions, and contractors play a key role in the safety of offshore operations. Safety begins and ends with each and every person involved in offshore energy exploration and development.

This continues to be an important moment for our nation’s energy future. The President is committed to the responsible development of our nation’s offshore energy resources, and to do that, we must work together to create a strong safety culture. At the end of the day, we all agree that no amount of oil or natural gas is worth losing a single life. I am very pleased to see a renewed focus on safety from the industry, and I am committed to working with everyone on these efforts, but I am equally committed to pushing the oil and gas industry to live up to what has been promised: the development of an industry with a robust safety culture that truly embodies the concept that safety is the responsibility of everyone at all levels and at all times.

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