BSEE Director: Follow High Reliability Organizations' Example

Speaking May 8 at the 2014 Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Director Brian Salerno cited Navy submarines, nuclear power plants, and the space program as highly technical operations where failure is never an acceptable outcome. "I would argue that your industry falls into much the same 'no-failure-acceptable' category, with the level of technology now employed," he said.

Speaking May 8 at the 2014 Offshore Technology Conference in Houston, Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement Director Brian Salerno cited the impressive technologies on display at OTC as he discussed the safety culture in the offshore energy industry. Citing Navy submarines, nuclear power plants, and the space program as highly technical operations where failure is never an acceptable outcome, he said, "I would argue that your industry falls into much the same 'no-failure-acceptable' category, with the level of technology now employed," according to prepared marks posted on the BSEE website.

"Technology is important, but so too is the human element. It takes people to operate, interpret, and make critical decisions as they employ technology. People establish the processes used to keep systems and operations safe, and only trained, committed people will ensure the integrity of complex processes," Salerno said. "I have recently begun to look into the characteristics of High Reliability Organizations. These are the organizations where failure is never an acceptable outcome. Think of Navy submarines, or nuclear power plants, or the space program. These highly technical operations place a high premium on training, on redundant systems, and on absolute adherence to established processes. There is no cutting corners."

"If used correctly, technology can make things much safer. If misused or taken for granted, it can result in catastrophic loss," he added. "In many ways, we began leading the industry toward becoming a high reliability organization or HRO with SEMS -- the performance-focused Safety and Environmental Management System for integrating and managing offshore operations. It was a significant step in the right direction. It introduced some of the elements of the safety-case approach, while at the same time resting on a standard baseline of regulatory compliance. It requires a more focused look at systems and how people fit into the work process. And it established obligations to speak up when unsafe conditions are observed, or when processes are not being followed.

"We have much more work to do with SEMS. Although it set us on the right path, none of us should be satisfied that the goal of a widespread safety culture within the industry has been achieved. Some companies may still think they can cut corners or regard SEMS as just a plan on a shelf. As we have seen, in some tragic cases, lives have been lost -- needlessly -- for failure to follow established safety processes. I am grateful to those who have taken SEMS and the need for a comprehensive safety culture to heart, and because of the good work that I have seen, I am hopeful that -- working together -- we can collectively set an expectation of safety excellence throughout the industry. As we have seen in HROs, this goal is within our grasp."

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