For pros who lament their lack of stature, be careful what you ask for.

“Health, safety and the environment (HSE) is now extremely high profile,” said Ian Stevenson, Group QHSE director at Technip, a French-based provider of engineering, management and construction services to the oil and gas industry, in the newsletter Oil & Gas IQ.

“We’re seeing it not just from a reputation perspective, but all the way through to a pure technical perspective,” he said. “It’s brought a huge focus, obviously, to HSE. It’s caught the attention of not just major oil companies, but the entire supply chain of the oil and gas business,” said Stevenson.

“It” of course is the April, 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout that killed 11 workers and captured the nation’s attention as up to 4.9 million barrels of oil gushed into the Gulf of Mexico.

But Deepwater Horizon was only the tipping point for pressure brought to bear on the oil and gas industry by the media, regulatory, grassroots and political forces. Several months after the blowout, the National Wildlife Federation released a report, “Assault on America: A Decade of Petroleum Company Disaster, Pollution and Profit,” which described a “cross-section of spills, leaks, fires, explosions, toxic emissions and water pollution.”

Tip of the iceberg: BP was fined $20 million for an oil spill in Alaska’s Prudhoe Bay, and agreed to pay $50.6 million in penalties for violations relating to the fatal explosion at its sprawling Texas City, Texas refinery.

Beyond BP: That “cross-section” of mishaps includes 1,443 incidents in outer continental shelf federal waters from 2001-2007 that killed 41 and injured 301; 100 losses of well control; 11 collisions; 476 fires and 356 pollution events, according to the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement.

From 2000 to 2009 pipeline accidents accounted for 2,554 significant incidents and 151 fatalities, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Hazardous Materials and Pipeline Safety Administration.

OSHA’s “deeply troubling” findings

Three months after Deepwater Horizon, OSHA deputy chief Jordan Barab testified to a U.S. Senate subcommittee about the “deeply troubling” findings of OSHA’s national emphasis inspection program of U.S. oil refineries.

“Not only are we finding a significant lack of compliance during our inspections, but our inspectors are finding the same violations in multiple refineries. Essential safety lessons are not being communicated. We are sick of the industry bragging about their safety record when children are burying their parents. Obviously the status quo is not working,” said Barab.

“The reputation of the entire oil and gas industry has been ‘dented’,” said Technip’s Stevenson. “Events seem to overtake themselves. You just never know when something’s going to hit you. We’ve had a very, very safe site and all of the sudden, something comes along and you have an incident. We all have to learn from this.”

Best practices not shared: Two surveys of safety and health pros conducted this year by Oil & Gas IQ cast doubt on exactly what kind of education is transpiring. Nearly three-quarters of respondents in one survey claimed there is more pressure on offshore operators regarding safety than in previous years. Still, more than two-thirds (67.6 percent) did not think the industry was doing enough to share safety and health best practices, due to animosity between rival and competing operators.

Continuing compromises: The second survey of oil and gas operator and contractor safety and health pros was also disturbing. Most — 68.2 percent — agreed that safety standards had improved across the industry since Deepwater Horizon. Still, almost seven in ten pros (69.6 percent) said safety is at times compromised by the financial side of the oil and gas business (21.7 percent said they didn’t know about compromises; only 8.7 percent believed safety was never compromised).

Rolling in profits — where are the safety investments?

The incredible wealth of the oil and gas industry doesn’t help public relations. At Chevron’s annual stockholder meeting in San Francisco this past May, Chevron CEO John Watson announced “tremendous performance momentum” for the company, with earnings of $26.9 billion in the past year, according to a press release.

“Big Oil’s Banner Year” reported the left-leaning American Center for Progress. The five largest oil companies — BP, Chevron, ConocoPhillips, ExxonMobil, and Royal Dutch Shell — combined to haul in a record-high $137 billion in profits in 2011 — up 75 percent from 2010 — and have made more than $1 trillion in profits from 2001 through 2011 .

The industry’s online safety chatter is hard to miss, though. Talking up safety, health and the environment these days is almost de rigueur in public pronouncements made by oil and gas industry executives. At the Chevron meeting, CEO Watson “reinforced Chevron’s long-standing culture of safety and environmental stewardship, and resulting industry-leading performance,” according to a company press release.

Viral messaging

Websites and social media serve as platforms to promote safety and environmental values. Chevron currently has nine videos posted on YouTube and 94,377 followers on its LinkedIn page.

BP’s website ( publicizes sustainability and Gulf of Mexico restoration prominently on its homepage. Royal Dutch Shell’s Facebook page has 157,560 people “talking about it” and more than one million “likes.” Shell posted on Facebook this June a photo of the “Sensabot, a robot that can improve safety in the world’s most challenging environments.”

ExxonMobil’s website ( devotes pages to safety & environment and community & development content. “Our employees are our most valuable resource and are at the core of ExxonMobil’s achievements,” is one of the company’s  “about us” principles. ExxonMobil has also become more transparent, as all oil and gas companies have, in reporting on its safety and environmental problems.

In late April a website post reported:

“Cleanup operations were continuing at the site of a spill of crude oil on remote rural property near Torbert, La., ExxonMobil Pipeline Company said today. The oil from the North Line crude pipeline was contained in the immediate area and recovery efforts began on Sunday. Crews used vacuum trucks to recover the oil. Additional resources will be available on Monday as necessary. There were no injuries.”

ConocoPhillips’ website greets visitors with twin messages: “ConocoPhillips: Safe. Focused. Performance-Driven.” And “Phillips 66: Safe. Capable. Innovative.” Phillips 66 has but 202 Twitter followers for messages such as this one — “In case you missed it, we’re now one of the world’s largest downstream companies.”

The American Petroleum Institute, representing nearly 500 members, has been active and aggressive post-Macondo. API has formed more than 25 groups to look at various aspects of spill response, assessing what works and what doesn’t, according to Holly Hopkins, senior policy advisor at the API, in an interview with Oil & Gas IQ. It has also created the Centre for Offshore Safety, a move reminiscent of the Chemical Industry Association of Canada creating the Responsible Care program and commitment to process safety initiative in 1985, soon after the Bhopal disaster. Responsible Care now operates in 52 countries. In 2011, basic and specialty chemical companies spent about $12.4 billion on environmental, health and safety programs, according to the American Chemistry Council.

Getting to zero

One of the major safety strategies embraced by the oil and gas industry in 2012 was expressed by Hopkins in the Oil & Gas IQ interview: “API and industry are committed to a goal of zero fatalities, zero injuries and zero incidents,” she said.

Industry barriers to safety

 Complacency

 Denial

 Group think

 Concerns derided

 Machismo

 Cost-cutting

 Fixation on lagging indicators

 Paper safety cultures

 Lack of leadership

 Fruitless seduction of root cause analysis

 Confusion between personal and systems safety

 Poor safety controls

 Poor risk perception

 Poor situational awareness


Is the industry making pledges it cannot keep, going overboard with hype to rebuild its safety credibility? The goal of zero harm is controversial in worker safety circles. DuPont says it is the only goal worth going after. Corrie Pitzer, a safety consultant, gave a presentation at this year’s American Society of Safety Engineer’s meeting with the title, “Zero Accidents was the Goal of… the Titanic.”

Workers at best ignore “zero harm” buzzwords, at worst they play along, said Pitzer in a 2009 web post, “‘Zero Harm’ is a false ethic.”

Frontline perspectives

Using oil and gas social networks on the web, we asked safety and health pros in the industry to assess the fight to regain public trust. What are among the specific steps being taken?

Cloud-based tracking: “I see across all industries a move toward a cloud-based integrated management system to help track compliance regulations / certifications, which allows their team members to track all activity from their mobile phones or wherever they are,” said Tiffany Bell.

Systems certification: “Slowly we are beginning to see an increase in demand/requests for SIL-rated products from oil and gas companies in North America. Previously requests were mainly for projects based in Europe. The selection of qualified third-party approved instrumentation for safety systems is certainly a positive step over self-certification,” said Joshua Walters.

SIL stands for Safety Integrity Level.  A SIL is a measure of safety system performance, or probability of failure on demand (PFD) for a SIF or SIS.

 SIF stands for Safety Instrumented Function. A SIF is designed to prevent or mitigate a hazardous event by taking a process to a tolerable risk level.

A SIS is a Safety Instrumented System. It is designed to prevent or mitigate hazardous events by taking the process to a safe state when predetermined conditions are violated.

A SIL level applies to an entire system. Individual products or components do not have SIL ratings. SIL levels are used when implementing a SIF that must reduce an existing intolerable process risk level to a tolerable risk range.

Process safety emphasis: “I believe you’re going to see greater emphasis on process safety management (PSM) compared to conventional occupational safety on offshore rigs,” said Wayne Pardy.  “Because process safety incidents/serious PSM incidents are not that common, they don’t contribute to injury statistics that most companies capture and report on a frequent basis as their ‘safety statistics.’


Redefining safety performance: “Even BP’s internal safety performance and the safety performance of its contractors were based on trailing safety indicators like lost-time and total recordable injury rates,” said Pardy. “For many folks like BP and Transocean, safety performance means occupational safety, and occupational safety typically means frequency and severity rates.”

Culture surveillance: The industry’s attention is now shifting from checklists of behaviors that lead to injuries to flaws in safety cultures., such as an overreliance on paperwork justifications, and lack of real commitment to safety by leaders.


 Mandatory Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) requirements

 More rigorous federal enforcement

 More attention to leading indicators

 More attention to human factors

 Enforcement’s “shaming and naming”

 Risk reporting

 Personal responsibility

 Formal accountability

 Transformational leadership

 Incentives to change safety cultures

 Improved industry standards

 Better management of change

 Enhanced learning from events

 Integration of safety into operational decision-making



 Better education: “Awareness has improved,” said Gerard Borbon. “Before, workers were just given the rules and regulations for the work sites. Workers now get explanations why the standards exist. Why they should lift with their legs and not with their back and other topics. Workers now appreciate the concerns these standards have for them. Their education has improved.”

Barriers to better awareness

Research conducted on “Situation Awareness in Drilling Crews” by the Industrial Psychology Research Centre at the University of Aberdeen (Scotland) shows more work needs to be done on worker awareness.

The research analyzed 135 accidents over a ten-month period from a database of multinational oil and gas companies. Two-thirds of the mishaps were classified as perception errors (workers don’t get the information that is needed); 20 percent were comprehension errors (workers do not correctly understand the information they do get); and 13 percent were projection errors (workers don’t project what will happen in the future; there is a lack of anticipation).

Interviews with crews revealed four factors the affect awareness: 1) problems with family/at home; 2) fatigue; 3) stress from increasing workloads, supervisor pressure, and self-imposed pressure to complete tasks; and 4) lack of experience, and working on routine tasks that leads to boredom and “auto-pilot” inattention.

Researchers recommended that the oil and gas industry address issues that affect work situation awareness, including better stress management, shift/rotation patterns less disruptive for sleep, and the need to design and implement tailored training requirements in situation awareness for the offshore workforce.