“Don’t sweat the small stuff,” an old saying goes. A federal investigation into the Deepwater Horizon explosion that killed 11 workers says BP was doing just that at the expense of paying attention to more serious safety hazards.
In interim findings, U.S. Chemical Safety Board (CSB) investigators say BP and its partner Transocean focused on personal injury data (such as dropped objects, slips, trips and falls, etc.). That focus overshadowed measuring indicators that could point to more catastrophic incidents.
“A number of past CSB investigations have found companies focusing on personal injury rates while virtually overlooking looming process safety issues,” said CSB Chair Dr. Rafael Moure-Eraso. “Furthermore, we have found failures by companies to implement their own recommendations from previous accidents.”
One company that failed to do that was BP.
In its investigation of the Deepwater Horizon disaster, a CSB investigator found an “eerie resemblance” between the 2005 explosion at the BP Texas City refinery that killed 15 workers and the Gulf of Mexico explosion five years later.
At the Texas City refinery in 2005, contract workers had just returned to temporary trailers at the plant after attending a celebratory lunch commending an excellent personal injury record. Shortly after the lunch, the explosion occurred.
On the day of the explosion at Deepwater Horizon in 2010, BP and Transocean officials praised workers for a low rate of personal injuries.
A CSB investigator said companies need to develop indicators that give them information about their potential for catastrophic incidents.
“Safety is not easy to measure,” and that has to be done using “surrogate indicators,” said a companion report by an industry expert released by the CSB.
What are those measures, also known as leading indicators?
Another expert opinion paper released by the CSB provides some suggestions:
- backlogs of maintenance which is critical to the safety of the facility
- temporary repairs
- levels of deferred maintenance
- number of safety instrument overrides
- equipment wear (such as corrosion), and
- percent of time maintenance isn’t completed on time.
Do you think the safety field has focused too much and too long on lagging indicators like injury rates? Have you shifted to attempts to measure leading indicators that show potential for larger, possibly catastrophic incidents? Let us know in the comments below.