Center’s director responds to NAS report on improving offshore safety

The Center for Offshore Safety (COS) already has implemented several programs recommended in a report that the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine issued on May 25, and has made important new technology and practices available to member and nonmember companies, its director said.

“We’d love for everybody to be a member. Our membership already covers a significant amount of capital spent and staff hours offshore,” Charlie Williams told OGJ in a May 27 interview. “But I also think everyone has been able to use the tools and techniques that we have.”

The report called on the US oil and gas industry to establish an independent organization dedicated to offshore safety and environmental protection, with no advocacy role. It suggested that COS, which the American Petroleum Institute and other industry groups formed following the April 2010 Macondo deepwater well blowout and oil spill, could fill this role, with membership required for companies working in the Gulf of Mexico.

“The report took about 2 years to prepare, and we’re 6 years into introducing improvements to respond to Macondo,” Williams said. “The Center identified all these areas as places to work in, and the report mentions work we have done. We’ve made progress in all these areas. Many programs are up and functioning.”

COS’s main purpose is to help the offshore oil and gas industry improve its safety practices, he noted. “We’ve always had our safety management and audit documents available online for free.”

The Center accredits providers that do the Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) audits that companies have to turn in to the US Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, he said. “Essentially, every SEMS audit has used our tools and methodology,” Williams said. “The fact a company wasn’t a member doesn’t mean it didn’t have access to this information.”

More tools, information

Companies working offshore have moved through the first round of BSEE audits, and a second round is under way, Williams said. “We’re issuing a new set of audit tools based on the previous round, and are collecting other information, including continuous data to issue an annual safety performance indicators report and data from incidents and near-incidents’ human behavior components,” he said. “It’s the kind of data people say we needed.”

Williams said COS and its leaders also believe that it’s important to have a central place to share knowledge and improve safety management, and that is a good place to do it. The group has a forum each year during the Offshore Technology Conference that anyone can attend. “We’ve spent a lot of time at the Center working on safety culture, and are working on a maturity tool where companies can self-assess their maturity in the safety management process,” Williams said.

COS also is branching out, and recently signed a memorandum of understanding with Agencia de Seguridad Energia y Ambiente (ASEA), Mexico’s new offshore oil and gas safety and environmental regulator, he said.

“There’s a great interest in taking safety management practices the same across the entire Gulf of Mexico,” he said. “We’ve been working hard on all of those, and we don’t plan to stop. We’ve had a lot of interaction with [ASEA], as has BSEE. We should manage safety and have the same goals regardless of where companies are working in the gulf.”

Responding quickly and well

Williams said he considers safety management something that needs to be thought about and done well. “Safety management systems begin with rules. But with complex operations involve managing change, which can’t be predicted,” he said. “You have to build systems to give people the capacity and dedication to respond to sudden changes. You have to build an environment when people go beyond just following the rules, and learn to think and respond quickly and well.”

The safety culture is one key, but leadership also is important, he told OGJ. “A good effective safety management system is a starting point, but you have to have a workforce that can manage change skillfully,” Williams said. “If you have a good system and use it well every day, you end up with a good safety culture. Employees and contractors see the leadership and dedication at a company, and begin to care about it too.

“Different companies are at different places on the journey. The task for all of us—BSEE, the Center, and the companies—is to get everybody into the same place,” he said. “There are special challenges if a company is smaller, but actually some small companies have good safety management already. People have to think about their respective challenges, but I think one of the key goals is to get everyone to the same place. There are different levels of maturity right now.”

Williams said the report contained some good ideas, but also basically approved of what COS has been doing and suggested ways to make its programs better and more effective. “We identified those action areas right after Macondo, and those are what we’ve been doing at COS and focus on getting more data. I think the report showed where we’ve made great progress, as well as areas where we can make more,” he said.

Contact Nick Snow at

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