Is capitalism anti-safety? Systemic failures in oil industry

The Wall Street Journal and other media around the world have reported on systemic failures of the global oil industry and government regulators identified by the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling.  These articles are based on the release of a single chapter, Chapter 4, of the final report due for release on 11 January 2011.

A media release from the Commission includes the following findings from Chapter 4

“The well blew out because a number of separate risk factors, oversights, and outright mistakes combined to overwhelm the safeguards meant to prevent just such an event from happening.  But most of the mistakes and oversights at Macondo can be traced back to a single overarching failure—a failure of management.  Better management by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean would almost certainly have prevented the blowout by improving the ability of individuals involved to identify the risks they faced, and to properly evaluate, communicate, and address them.”

“. . .the Macondo blowout was the product of several individual missteps and oversights by BP, Halliburton, and Transocean, which government regulators lacked the authority, the necessary resources, and the technical expertise to prevent.”

“The blowout was not the product of a series of aberrational decisions made by rogue industry or government officials that could not have been anticipated or expected to occur again. Rather, the root causes are systemic and, absent significant reform in both industry practices and government policies, might well recur.”

“What we. . .know is considerable and significant:

  1. each of the mistakes made on the rig and onshore by industry and government increased the risk of a well blowout;
  2. the cumulative risk that resulted from these decisions and actions was both unreasonably large and avoidable; and
  3. the risk of a catastrophic blowout was ultimately realized on April 20 and several of the mistakes were contributing causes of the blowout.”
The significance of these quotes is that the Commission is critical of an industry and not just a single company.   Continue reading “Is capitalism anti-safety? Systemic failures in oil industry”

Lessons Learnt…?

I would like to pose a question, or questions: are OHS professionals and the community in general, in all honesty, learning and applying the lessons we are being taught from workplace events?

Are we, or our organisations, being truly effective in preventing the recurrence of events in our workplaces, work processes or activities?

Do we, in truth, actually prevent risk before it has the opportunity to arise, or do we at best eliminate it once it does?

Most, if not all, will answer “yes, yes and yes”.  And mean it.  But let us take a good, hard look in the mirror.

Almost every day, most of us will become aware of another work-related fatality, another court case won or lost, another event which has resulted in significant harm to person, property, environment – or a combination thereof.  What makes these events of note?   Continue reading “Lessons Learnt…?”

Safety website says OHS association is heartless

Safety In Australia has posted an extraordinary article questioning the decision of the Safety Institute of Australia to proceed with a process to consider the expulsion of one of its members regardless of the member recently suffering a heart attack.

The article says that the SIA has received a doctor’s letter saying that Phil Kamay, the member in question, should not attend the special general meeting on health grounds but the SIA has decided to proceed regardless. Safety In Australia questions this decision on the grounds of fairness. It is unclear who, if anyone, will be presenting Kamay’s rebuttal of the accusations against him that have led to the expulsion moves.

On an unrelated note, it is understood that the SIA has two tables booked for Worksafe Victoria’s Safety Awards late next week and that Phil Kamay is a guest at one of those tables.

Kevin Jones

UK case exposes the hypocrisy of leadership commitment

Most safety professionals can tell stories about how workplace injuries are hidden so that bonuses or rewards are still distributed even though they are not warranted.  Most of these examples are at the shop-floor level where rewards, although much anticipated, are minor – first aid kits, movie tickets, sometimes money – and where peer pressure can be quite overpowering.  But occasionally a situation is revealed where senior executives also rort the system in order to obtain a reward or a bonus.  In September 2010, the UK union Unite has revealed just such a case in Network Rail, a case where the chairman has acknowledged that greed played a role. Continue reading “UK case exposes the hypocrisy of leadership commitment”

Tooma takes aim at the Environment Minister over accountability

Participants at the 2010 Safety In Action conference and the 2010 ASSE Conference will be familiar with lawyer, Michael Tooma‘s faith in due diligence to improve safety management in Australia.  In the lead-up to his appearance at another Australian OHS conference in October 2010 he has again restated his faith but this largely ignores the changed political context of OHS harmonisation on which the new Work Health and Safety laws are based.

I have mentioned Australia’s current peculiar political position elsewhere.  The uncertainty of Federal politics overlaps and could greatly affect the OHS harmonisation process, or rather, its application.  It seems even more likely that the Labour Governments in Queensland and New South Wales will fall at their next State elections rendering the fast becoming an ideal of OHS harmonisation dead.

Tooma (pictured right) makes no mention of the changed political reality in a recent media release concerning his upcoming conference appearance although he is willing to take a pot shot at the Federal Environment Minister, Peter Garrett, over the lack of accountability over the deaths, fires and injuries that resulted from the botched home insulation scheme. Continue reading “Tooma takes aim at the Environment Minister over accountability”

Only an OHS expert can deal with the problem

Occupational health and safety(OHS) is supposed to be a skill that anyone can obtain and apply but it is often complicated by experts.  This is not to say that OHS is “common sense”.  The notion of common sense is a nonsense.

Several years ago, Laurie Anderson performed in Melbourne, Australia.  Her show was “Homeland” and the song that I most remember from her performance was “Only an expert“.  There is a wisdom in the song that remains as topical as much now as it did when I heard it at the start of the international banking crisis and the US home lending crash.  Anderson has been able to update the lyrics of the song to include the BP Gulf of Mexico oil spill.

Continue reading “Only an OHS expert can deal with the problem”

Social change through worker dignity

The need for food parcels for those on workers’ compensation seems to continue in South Australia according to a 3 July 2010 report in Adelaide Advertiser.  SafetyAtWorkBlog mentioned the service being offered by Rosemary Mackenzie-Ferguson and others in March 2010.

There are many areas of society that are supported by privately provided social services and this situation is likely to persist but just as soup kitchens illustrate a problem of poverty, so the food service mentioned above indicates a problem with workers’ compensation.

As each Australian state reviews its workers’ compensation laws ahead of a national harmonisation, it seems absurd to focus on the laws but not on the social impacts of those laws.  It is common to refer to a “whole-of-government” approach to issues but “whole-of-society” seems to be a slower concept to embrace.

Much is being made in Australia’s OHS harmonisation process of the need to look at the enforcement policies that support new legislation.  There is also a (flawed) reliance on Courts to provide clarity to the legislation rather than producing clear laws in the first place.  But rarely does government look beyond the law, the Courts, or the enforcement policies to assess the potentially negative social impacts of the OHS and workers’ compensation laws. Continue reading “Social change through worker dignity”

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