Posted on: May 11, 2010 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

Explosion and sinking of BP Horizon oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico is a SHEQ disaster that killed as many workers as the BP Texas City refinery disaster did.

“The first employer comment that sparked my close attention came from a very senior executive, who said it was not a BP accident, but a fault by contractors. That was one of the first public corporate comments, and shows that BP had learnt very little in the last decade”, writes Australian safety technologist David Broadbent in his circular, named ‘Second on Safety’.

“My immediate comments are not printable, since Australians are known for occasional use of colloquial language. Readers of know my prior comments on BP’s failings, as determined by three independent investigations into the BP Texas City refinery disaster.

“Again, they company appears to have learnt very little. The first comments are about blame. The final factor in the long causal chain of disaster could be a behavioural factor among contractors, but these people function in a culture of the principal and host, in this case, BP.

“This company continues to focus too heavily on what they call ‘personal safety’. In the traditional safety world we may call that behavioural safety. What they appear to have missed are process safety factors.

“As principal employer they maintain core responsibility for process issues. I suspect this may be a case of a contractor operating very lean, to maximise shareholder value on both sides. You could almost be sure that BP would not have left much ‘fat’ in the contract price.

“Companies operating in high risk environments often attempt to bring into their operation some low risk safety tools, like BBS, at the exclusion of process safety. Lean processes as demonstrated in Japan, like Kaizen, 5S, JIT, and so on, are removing levels of safety redundancy from systems. Less redundancy invites the greater likelihood of disaster.

“The father of ‘lean’ is Toymoda Mas, and you may recognise the corporate name, Toyota. Note their problems around corrupt behaviour, with two sets of books, and their product safety issues with Prius and Corolla in the USA.

Focus on awareness, not incidents

A group of senior BP executives were on the Horizon rig before the disaster, celebrating seven years of excellent safety performance. There is horrific irony in that. The absence of accidents and disasters is often the result of good luck as well as good management, as I have argued for years.

“Arrogant organisations make a big deal of safety results. Karl Weick, in his early work around Collective Mindfulness, and recent work of my respected colleague Andrew Hopkins, both excellent safety thinkers, would argue that we should maintain focus on likely system failure, and remain vigilant.

“Organisations focus much attention on lagging safety metrics, like LTIFR, MTIFR, TRIFR. These bear little, if any, relationship to real safety outcomes.

If there is a lesson here, it is to keep ‘celebrations’ low key, and use such gatherings to reinforce the participatory vigilance required at all levels of the organisation. If you celebrate anything, focus on leading indicators.

“If you do not know what tyour leading indicators are, hit Google, or send me an email. My heart goes out to families and friends of the deceased and injured in this disaster.

* David G Broadbent is an Australian safety technologist, and founder of


Leave a Comment