All data out of the closet for safer offshore operations

Two heads are better than one, and the effect only gets more significant as the number of people involved grows. The Wisdom of the Crowd is how people refer to it nowadays, and it’s in that frame of mind that companies, researchers, governments, and non-profits gathered at the Ocean Energy Safety Institute (OESI) in Texas. Together they discussed Taking Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) to the Next Level, by invitation of the American Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE). My contribution: do more with the data that, in many cases, already exists.

The BSEE is a non-profit that works on safety and environmental protection for offshore oil and gas drilling and extraction and for the maintenance of the offshore sources that lie at the outer edge of America’s Continental Shelf. The organization accomplishes its work by creating standards and rules. It applies the tool SEMS(Safety and Environmental Management Systems). The device integrates and manages offshore operations to make them safer. The reduction of the number of incidents and their lower impact is the goal of SEMS.

SEMS of the future

BSEE, along with the industry itself, would like to work on safer offshore operations. By definition, safety is in everyone’s best interest. When it comes to safety, competition and money play a subordinate role. Every oil and gas producing company or supplier wants its employees to go home safely at the end of the day.

BSEE is looking for new ways to make the industry safer: both in the fields of process safety, personal safety, and the environment. To gain unique insight, the Ocean Energy Safety Institute and the BSEE organized a conference for market players in the offshore industry. During the meeting, a variety of companies, end-users, suppliers, and consultants presented their safety cases. There were also discussions on several topics. The central question was: how will the future SEMS look, and how will we use them?

Analyze and improve

Although the question is universal and relevant for companies worldwide, I think there are a few differences between Europe and the US. I have the impression that Europe is more advanced in using data to improve safety than the US. This difference is in the handling of data we collect on plants, factories, and oil rigs. What I see in America is that the last piece of the chain is not fully utilized. Where we work with analysis and improvement, in the US, data are collected, which is not always used. This is a shame because data analysis makes the industry safer. The information you get from your plants you can use to improve the same installations. During the panel discussion, I shared this vision. Fortunately, attendees recognized and acknowledged this state of affairs in their US offshore operations.

Human factor

In recent years, much attention has been paid to the human factor in safety. This has arisen from the idea that you start with the weakest link, not the process but the man. Many dangerous situations are caused by human error or a lack of proper procedures and work instructions. According to various studies, even 90 percent of incidents could be traced back, in some way, to human error. Courses and training can reduce the human factor as much as possible, but people are not robots.

On the other hand, with hardware and software, we can continue to tinker as we use the information that the systems give us to reach perfection. Why is this not yet the situation in every country or evident to all? Perhaps because the offshore industry has been relatively safe in some areas, as the Center for Offshore Safety concludes. But research from the same center also shows that in the field of process safety, there is still room for improvement, emphasizing risk management, maintenance, inspection, and testing. So, it is time to pull all the data from the cabinet.

Wouter Last, president Hint