Human Error Still Major Source of Danger on Offshore Oil Rigs
Five years ago today the country saw the most devastating offshore oil spill disaster in U.S. history. Now, as the memory of Deepwater Horizon is brought up again in the minds of those who work within the industry and suffered environmental effects alike, it is time to examine what has been done in those years since the accident.
Improved Training Leads to No Measurable Benefits
While many companies, especially BP, have enforced new standards of their own and complied with rules and regulations put in place by the government, there is still one weakness at the center of the offshore oil drilling industry: human error. No matter how much additional training or regulations these companies seem to put in place, there is still no definitive ruling on whether human error has been reduced or any improvement has been gained in this area. True, BP has enforced new training simulations that require offshore oil rig workers to go through practice emergency scenarios, but have there been any measurable improvements in safety practices? Unfortunately, regulators have reported that the answer is still no as of now.
At the center of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill was the heated issue of human error. As stated in final reports, if the crew would have reacted in a timelier manner or took more precautionary steps in the months leading up to the disaster, the incident could have likely been prevented or seriously minimized. While there has certainly been a decrease in current offshore oil rig incidents, if a big disaster hits in the future, many fear that it will reveal some type of human error again. At the end of the day, training and new rules can only go so far. The stressful environment that offshore oil rigs create may never allow for the ideal workplace for employees to make the best possible decisions. It seems that human error is almost inevitable in a setting where extensive hours, strenuous labor, and dangerous surroundings are always present and demanded.
Safety Audits Reveal Continued Corruption in Offshore Drilling Companies
After the Deepwater Horizon disaster, the Safety and Environmental Management Systems program was formed. Under this program, U.S. offshore drillers were required to file safety program audits, demonstrating what areas they were and weren't complying with starting in 2013. However, just last year, a government review of these audits revealed that many companies had incorporated vague checklists that did not elaborate on how the safety programs were being implemented, only that they existed. Furthermore, other companies reportedly had multiple audits performed to avoid having to disclose any failings or violations in their so-called safety programs.
Just a few years after the disastrous spill, offshore drilling companies were seemingly already jumping back into old habits. The bureau determined that there was sadly a lack of evidence on whether or not the safety programs were truly effective due to questionable assessment strategies performed by companies. That is why starting in June of 2015, independent audits will be performed from examiners who are approved by the Center for Offshore Safety. The government also says it will continue to review the center's audit protocols.
As Deepwater Horizon continues to fade from memory, regulators worry about complacency setting in. Seeming to add more fuel to the fire, crude oil prices have dropped significantly, giving companies more incentive to save in any way they can. Many believe that the first areas to be sacrificed in operations are safety and training. While others contest this idea, saying offshore companies will instead sacrifice on the number of projects they do, it seems like the doubts and questions will remain unanswered until another disaster occurs—or remains avoided.