In recent news: Workers raised safety concerns weeks before Deepwater Horizon blast

A workforce survey conducted on behalf of the owners of the Deepwater Horizon rig, weeks before the explosion that killed 11 workers and caused large scale damage to the area, has revealed that staff were concerned by safety issues.

Lloyd’s Register Group conducted the survey and focus group in March 2010 on behalf of Transocean.  They found that there was a heightened fear among workers of reprisals for reporting critical safety issues, with half of the workers interviewed feeling that they couldn’t report actions that could lead to an incident to management.  Almost everyone felt they could raise “safety concerns and that these issues would be acted upon if this was within the immediate control of the rig” and indeed were encouraged to think about safety, but investigators also said that the workforce “felt that this level of influence was restricted to issues that could be resolved directly on the rig, and that they had little influence at Divisional or Corporate levels”:

“I’m petrified of dropping anything from heights not because I’m afraid of hurting anyone (the area is barriered off), but because I’m afraid of getting fired,” one worker wrote.

“The company is always using fear tactics,” another worker said. “All these games and your mind gets tired.”

Source: New York Times

Workers also felt that Transocean’s system for monitoring incidents was counter productive.  Many workers entered fake data into the system and as a result, the company’s perception of safety on the rig was distorted.

“A separate 112-page equipment assessment also commissioned by the company [and undertaken by Lloyd’s Register] concluded many key components had not been fully inspected since 2000 even though guidelines said it should be done every three to five years.

At least 26 components and systems on the rig were found to be in “bad” or “poor” condition.”


Transocean claims these relate to minor systems, however, the New York Times states that one of these systems included the blowout preventer rams and failsafe valves, the failure of which could have been a major contributor to the incident, although a spokesman for Transocean has said that all elements of the blowout preventer had been inspected by its original manufacturer.  The spokesman also noted that Deepwater Horizon had had “seven consecutive years without a single lost-time incident [LTI] or major environmental event.”

Source: New York Times

Safety culture

The dangers of using the time since last LTI or major incident are well known, as they only tell you that you haven’t had an accident yet, and don’t reveal any problems that may be leading up to a future incident.  Their use can lead to complacency, drawing comparisons to a “ticking time bomb”, an analogy perhaps not out of place in this context.  The frequency of near misses would probably have served better as an indicator of safety, however the fact that staff were not recording incidents correctly suggests that near misses were not being reported.  As such, Transocean would not have had an accurate indicator of the level of safety on the rig as a result.

As more details slowly emerge from this incident, it will be interesting if any new findings appear that distinguish Deepwater Horizon from other incidents, such as Piper Alpha, Texas City, Buncefield, etc.  We certainly get an indicator that the safety culture on the rig was not where it should have been (although it is a little unclear at this point whether this refers to occupational safety culture, process safety culture, or both), and this is something that comes up time and time again in incident investigations.  As a case in point, also in recent news is the case of the 2009 collapse of a rail-line bridge in Co Dublin, Ireland.  “[The] report raises serious questions about the safety culture in Irish Rail”.  Source: Belfast Telegraph

A serious question to ask is, if this there was an issue with safety culture, was it localised at rig-level or was it a company-wide issue? 

Comments are welcome.

One Response to In recent news: Workers raised safety concerns weeks before Deepwater Horizon blast

  1. […] already discussed in a previous article on this blog there are some initial indications that poor process safety culture had a leading role in the blast […]

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