Sunday, April 03, 2011

Is killing 11 employees good safety performance?

This morning I heard on BBC World, that Transocean execs have received a bonus for good safety performance in 2010. My first thought was: This can't be true. So I googled 'transocean bonus', and payment of the bonus was confirmed by sources such as Business Insider, which qouted WSJ. According to WSJ the bonus was given for "best year in safety performance". Wait a minute. Transocean was the operator and owner of Deepwater Horizon the platform hired by BP, and which failed catastrofically in the Gulf of Mexico killing 11 workers on the drill deck.

So what is the Transocean board saying by giving a bonus to its execs for good safety performance in 2010? In my view they are saying, that a year in which 11 people are killed in company operations is a good year. They are also saying a year with equipment loses in excess of half a billion dollars is a good year. I am chocked, that a company these days can have business plans in which such performance is considered good. Did Transocean really plan on loosing 0.1% of their employees due to accidents in 2010?

I find the statements on the Transocean web-site about the Deepwater Horizon:
"The loss and impacts of the April 20 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon are felt throughout our entire Transocean family, and our thoughts and prayers remain with all who have been affected.

On May 25, Transocean honored the 11 missing crew members in a memorial service in Jackson, Mississippi, and we continue to support the families of those lost and those who survived."
a bit hollow.

The more serious question is who is paying for this? In the first places it is customers for Transocean, i.e. companies such as BP. However, these companies are just in business to discover oil and gas, recover it and sell it to consumers. So indirectly consumers pay at the gas pump or through the heating bill for the safety performance of companies like Transocean. I am beginning to think, that the earlier the consumers realize, that the cost of process accidents are passed on to them, the sooner we will improve process safety around the world.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

It is not rocket science!

Today at the anniversary of an accident, which killed 7 workers at the Tesoro refinery the Chemical Safety Board chairman has released a video safety message with the following recommendations to the US refining industry:

· Implement a robust mechanical integrity programs with an emphasis on thorough inspections of critical equipment
· Monitor process safety performance using appropriate leading and lagging indicators to measure process safety before major accidents occur
· Maintain an open and trusting safety culture where near-misses and loss of containment incidents are reported and investigated

To me this really is not rocket science. The first recommendation is simple good engineering practice for anyone operating and maintaining a refinery. I recall a remark from our guide during a visit by chemical engineering professors to the ExxonMobil refinery at Baton Rouge at the start of a SACHE Workshop "that the facility was maintained by engineers", i.e. integrity is more important than looks. It is indeed chocking how many times insufficient or improper maintenance has played a part in major negative events in the last decade, e.g. the 2005 explosion and fire at BP's Texas City Refiney, the later the same year the explosion and fire at Buncefield to mention just a couple of events.

The second recommendation is simply following the recommendations of many institutions to implement the recommendations of the Center for Chemical Process SAfety (CCPS) to measure safety performance. Even if you don't like the measures suggested by the CCPS, then you ought to develop your own indicators, as e.g. Bayer told the world about at last years 2010 Loss Prevention Symposium in Bruges, Belgium.

And the third recommendations is a necessity in order to have reliable results of the second recommendation. However, this is properly the most difficult recommendations for manager with an an engineering background to implement, especially if they have not been exposed to a good safety culture during their professional life. If you are new to safety culture, then join the discussion over at LinkedIn about creating a good safety culture. It is in the group for EHS Professionals.

Since it is not rocket science to implement the recommendations, which will prevent negative events such as that at the Tesoro refiney, I suggest that the business cost of these negative events creating serious equipment damage, killing workers and injuring many others must be too low compared with the cost of preventing them. What can we do about this?