Commercial Vessel Compliance

9/22/2016: 2016 Center for Offshore Safety Forum – Opening remarks from senior regulators

Assistant Commandant for Prevention Policy Rear Adm. Paul Thomas recently joined Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) Director Brian Salerno at the fourth annual Center for Offshore Safety (COS) Forum in Houston.

The panel was moderated by Charlie Williams, executive director for the COS – an industry sponsored organization focused exclusively on offshore safety on the U.S. Outer Continental Shelf.

For those of you unable to attend, Maritime Commons is providing a condensed version of Thomas’ and Salerno’s remarks in a four-part series. These remarks are not ‘as delivered’ but provide a condensed version of the panel highlights in the ‘panel-conversational’ style. Below are the opening remarks made by Salerno and Thomas at the 2016 Center for Offshore Safety Forum.

Director Brian Salerno:

I really appreciate the invitation to me and Rear Adm. Thomas to once again spend some time with you and to have this opportunity to engage in dialogue with COS members. We at BSEE really value the relationship that we have with the Center for Offshore Safety. COS is an ally in our shared goal of strengthening and maturing the safety culture on the Outer Continental Shelf. Working together over the last several years, we’ve refined the procedures around SEMS audits and assessments, and I know that going forward in the coming months and coming years, we’ll continue to make refinements and continue to make SEMS even more effective and beneficial to safety on the OCS.

One of the tenants of a safety culture is leadership; continuous improvement really requires that commitment by leaders. People in organizations take their cue from what leaders say and what they do, the kinds of behaviors that they reward – we’ve all experienced that. In times like we are experiencing right now, with this prolonged economic downturn, that’s really when a leader’s true commitment to safety is put to the test. I’ll be honest with you, when we went into the downturn, I was really anticipating that we would see a spike in incidents, that the number of injuries would go up, and that the number of oil spills would go up. I predicated that fear on the belief that there are natural tendencies, when companies are under enormous financial stress to defer maintenance, to maybe cut corners a little bit. But we’re not seeing that, and I would attribute that to the kind of leadership that is resident within the industry – that commitment to put safety front and center, to embed it into all your normal work processes. And I think that’s really had a beneficial effect. I am cautiously optimistic when I look at the future of SEMS and its value to the industry. I think it’s had that beneficial effect through this downturn. You can all pat yourselves on the back for that – I think that’s good news.

The other side of that coin, though, is that incidents are still occurring. We still do see injuries, we still see oil spills and, unfortunately, we still see fatalities. The only acceptable number on fatalities is zero; I think we would all agree on that. So, we still have work to do. We cannot be satisfied with the status quo. There is much we need to do and much we need to discuss about our way forward with SEMS and how we improve safety on the OCS. Along those lines, I know later today we’ll have some discussion on the National Academy’s study on safety culture. For those of you who haven’t had a chance to look at it, I’d encourage you to do so. It’s a good report and it’s a good assessment of where we are. It also makes recommendations to industry, to COS and to regulators, and I think it gives us a lot to chew on.

I’m sure this will influence the nature of the dialogue that we have going forward and how we make things better. Speaking as a regulator, BSEE and the Coast Guard have shared responsibilities for safety and environmental protection on the Outer Continental Shelf. We’re involved in your business and we take very seriously that need to speak with a consistent voice, ideally with the same voice, but we want to be consistent. That’s why we meet regularly. We get together, at a minimum, on a quarterly basis and that happens not only in Washington but also at the field level between our regional director and the [Officers in Charge of Marine Inspections]. We also share data, we’ve established procedures to cross-train our inspectors and our investigators and, to the extent possible, we seek to harmonize our policies.

We feel we owe that to you – that level of consistency – so that you are never in a position where you have to adjudicate between two regulators. It’s also why we each enjoy coming here, so we can hear what’s on your mind and engage in that dialogue. I look forward to today’s discussion.

Rear Adm. Paul Thomas:

As Director Salerno said, it’s a good opportunity for us to interact not just with the audience here but [the COS Forum] is another opportunity for us to coordinate and we’ve taken advantage of that opportunity already today.

Thank you for structuring the discussion today around this report from the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine. If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. It really is a seminal document on the state of the safety culture on the Outer Continental Shelf in the U.S. and it has a great history of the industry and the development of safety culture. It outlines the regulatory framework that supports the safety culture, recognizing you cannot regulate culture, but you can support the culture with regulations, particularly around safety management systems. It has a number of useful recommendations for both the industry and the regulator and we’re going to discuss some of those recommendations today.

If you look at the essential recommendations to the regulator in this report, and the role of the regulator as it’s defined here, it’s to really help to build transparency. Transparency really is a necessary precursor to safety culture. It’s to learn how to build metrics that help the regulator assess safety culture and move away from checklists in compliance activities. It’s also to learn how to adjust your compliance activities as you learn how to assess the safety culture. To that end, we have undertaken a number of initiatives that Director Salerno has already mentioned. We have joint training, joint inspections, we share our data and we do a joint risk assessment.

In the Coast Guard, we’re moving to risk-based targeting of our resources. But that targeting is not just done with Coast Guard data. That targeting is done with Coast Guard and BSEE data because we can get a broader view at the overall safety culture aboard a unit or at a company if we leverage all our data. Then, we will use that assessment of safety culture to recognize those who are doing a great job and provide less oversight there, and to target our resources where we see, whether it be from Coast Guard data or from BSEE data, that there might be a lapse in the safety management system or the safety culture.

Some in your industry have coined this double jeopardy. I don’t think it’s double jeopardy; I think it’s good government and good governance. It certainly is the way of the future because we’re not getting more resources and, as the report says, the regulators role in helping you build a safety culture on the outer continental shelf is to assess safety culture, recognize it and adjust compliance activities accordingly.

Thomas and Salerno want to continue this discussion on Maritime Commons. If you want to follow up with any questions or thoughts, leave them in the comments below or tweet them to @maritimecommons using #BSEEUSCG.

In addition to this post, please be sure to view the entire series from the 2016 Center for Offshore Safety Forum.

This blog is not a replacement or substitute for the formal posting of regulations and updates or existing processes for receiving formal feedback of the same. Links provided on this blog will direct the reader to official source documents, such as the Federal Register, Homeport and the Code of Federal Regulations. These documents remain the official source for regulatory information published by the Coast Guard.