Sunday, July 28, 2013

Improved safety through cross learning from other fields?

This part week WebMD featured at story headlined "Tech Mishaps Behind 1 in 4 Operating Room Errors". The surprising conclusion of the study is that the researchers conclude that "surgical equipment checklist could cut the errors in half".  Maybe there should be operating manuals for operating theaters, just like there is for process plants or airplane. Maybe even an operating engineer to look after the equipment, while the doctors takes care of the patient?

In the airplanes and process plants checklist are commonly used before a major event such as a take-off or a start-up. It is not surprising then, that this tool could also be of value in the highly technical operating room environment. I actually believe, that such cross field learning is the best road to improved process safety.  What do you think?

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Profits before safety and image

Yesterday the Financial Times reported "Haliburton to plead guilty over Gulf spill", and that the company had to pay the maximum fine permitted under US law: US$ 200,000. That is indeed an insignificant sum for a company the size of Haliburton. Properly the amount is less than the minimum rent for a platform such as Deepwater Horizon.
Image of Deepwater Horizon fire from Wikimedia Commons.

This in my view is yet another example of a company, which puts profits above safety and image. The event with Exxon Valdez in Prince William Sound near Alaska almost 25 years ago gave Exxon Corporation a lesson or two, which changed the company forever. Few people recall that Exxon toke a line of credit of $4.8 billion from J.P. Morgan to protect itself. Later the company introduced the Operations Integrity Management System (OIMS) to help with ensuring, that the company would not again have to deal with disaster like the one in Prince William Sound. Maybe this and the ability to quickly decided to write-off the cost of a deepwater drilling such as Blackbeard is why ExxonMobil is today still involved in deepwater drilling in different parts of the world.

I don't know if the events in 1989 near Alaska led to any change on the Exxon board, but at least we know, that it led to action on the part of company across all its divisions and affiliates. I just hope, that Haliburton's board also take the small fine from the US Department of Justice as a wake-up call to ensure the company will take steps to ensure the world will experience another Deepwater Horizon even though drilling will progress to even more challenging areas than the Gulf of Mexico, e.g the areas off the east coast of Greenland. But that will just save a single company.

However, changing the public image of an industry like drilling and exploration cannot be done by a single company. Industry wide action similar to the chemical industry's ResponsibleCare program is in my opinion needed. In my view the priority should be safety, image, profits.