Offshore Drilling and Oil Operations Lag Behind in Safety Improvements, Says Chemical Safety Board

The massive explosion at BP’s oil refinery in Texas City in 2005, which we recently blogged about, led to safety measures being taken at chemical plant and oil refineries throughout the nation. But similar safety measures were not taken at oil drilling and other gas operations offshore. This was readily apparent after the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010.

The question is, will the energy industry step up safety measures now in order to prevent a similarly disastrous offshore explosion or oil spill from happening?

So far it does not look like they have.

Federal investigators with the Chemical Safety Board (CSB) met in Houston a few weeks ago and discussed the fact that most of the improvements for workplace safety in the oil and gas sector have been focused on preventing injury of the individual workers and not monitoring larger process safety issues.

The CSB, which reviews industrial accidents and makes safety recommendations to regulators and industrial plants, noted: “BP, Transocean, industry associations and the regulator did not effectively learn critical lessons of Texas City and other incidents. A key lesson not implemented was that preventing major accidents requires a specific focus on process safety management over and above conventional personal safety.”

Following the Texas City explosion in 2005, the oil and gas industry adopted a number of positive changes recommended by the CSB. But those changes – better tracking for injury data and near-misses – were primarily implemented in onshore facilities, and similar changes to offshore rigs were ignored almost entirely.

While even more safety process improvements have been recommended (and made mandatory in some cases) following the Deepwater Horizon oil rig blowout, federal regulators wonder as a whole whether enough is being done – and whether it is being fast enough.

Source: Fuel, “Report says offshore industry falls short on key safety monitoring,” 7/23/12.