The Chemical Safety Board held a day of panel discussions on Wednesday, one of which featuring the USW's own Mike Wright, to determine what could've been done differently to prevent the Deepwater Horizon explosion. All in all, it was a day of condemnation not just for BP, but for the oil industry in general, as the panels found the entire industry wanting in vigilant prevention.
"Despite significant progress, not all the lessons of Texas City and other CSB investigations have been effectively implemented by the oil industry," said the board's lead investigator, Don Holmstrom, as quoted in a Houston Chronicle story on the panel. And the CSB has the authority to make such a claim, as the independent federal agency has investigated at least 30 major oil industry accidents since 1999.
That's not to say much of the discussion didn't focus on BP. Before the Deepwater Horizon well blowout, BP hadn't complied with a CSB recommendation to install someone on its board who would focus on health, safety and environmental risk. BP appeared to respond last month by appointing Frank "Skip" Bowman, an outside director, who would focus on safety.
"BP has taken some steps - just not as many as we had hoped back in 2007," when the Texas City probe wrapped up, CSB Managing Director Daniel Horowitz said.
The panels also looked abroad, where countries like the UK and Australia have done away with specific rules and regulations, opting instead for a system that hold each company responsible for identifying the hazards inherent to their industry. This is a controversial tactic, but it is one that seems to work abroad, and one that might be worth trying, as it is increasingly difficult for the US federal agencies to come up with effective regulations. The hazards of the oil industry are just not that well understood as, say, the construction industry, where the hazards are deeply documented.
To add to regulatory difficulties, it would seem the technology evolves faster than the rules can be made. The "safety case" design, that which is used in the UK and Australia, is an ever evolving document, made to flexibly address the ever changing industry while still keeping companies accountable for making sure employees are safe and the environment protected.
If the U.S. had adopted a safety case system before BP launched work on the Deepwater Horizon station, "the risks would have been much more effectively evaluated, the decision-making process would then have been guided by the evaluation of those risks, and that very well may have altered" the choices that were made, Ian Whewell, a retired offshore division director from the United Kingdom's Health and Safety Executive, said.
They're interesting proposals, and hopefully these sorts of discussions will make for a safer future.
What more should be done? Let us know what you think in the comments below.
Submitted by Andrew Fatato