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 questions and answers from the panel related to the National Academy of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s (NASEM) safety culture report.
Williams: The NASEM report recommends that regulators work to change or remove barriers that inhibit data reporting, sharing and analysis. The view is that such barriers inhibit learning opportunities and therefore limit the enhancement of safety culture. What are the key regulatory or policy barriers you believe should be eliminated by your organizations to promote improvements in safety culture?
Salerno: I don’t know that there’s a regulatory barrier to sharing information. If there’s a barrier, it’s fear of how that information will be used. We’re all very aware of the fact that we’re under a lot of scrutiny and people take a look at what we’re doing – they look at the industry, they look at the regulator – and there’s always that fear of legal exposure. I think that’s probably at the core of why there may be reluctance to share information.
From a policy perspective and establishing clear pathways for sharing information, I think what a regulator can do is use the protections that exist, especially where Congress has given us those avenues. For such things as near miss reporting, we can and must protect the reporting source. Ideally, that would remove some of the fear so that we can collect, analyze and share information. What we’re really after is safety information…learning information; we are not going to use near miss information as an enforcement mechanism.
The other thing, and it relates to SEMS, is how can we, from a policy perspective, provide and build in enough assurances; to support good honest audit results that give valuable safety information and show how business is really working. I think we’ve always had a little bit of hesitation, or seen some hesitation, for what companies are willing to share. That’s an ongoing project in making people comfortable with working SEMS and feeling free to share their findings without fear of retribution.
Thomas: I thought about this one quite a bit because it gets back to my point about the necessity of transparency to building a safety culture, not just at one unit but across the shelf. Director Salerno and I are committed to that – we are sharing data not only between our agencies but with the industry. This year, we will issue our first joint report on the state of safety and safety culture on the OSC as viewed through our data. We are doing what we can to ensure the transparency of the data that we own.
I think you need to do what you can do to ensure the transparency of the data that you own, and I don’t think there is a regulatory solution – I think it’s a business solution. I think the COS is a perfect venue to share that data in a threat-free environment in a way that allows both the industry and the regulator to understand trends without necessarily placing blame or holding people accountable. There are times when a government regulator must hold people accountable and if you’re looking from removing regulatory requirements to hold people accountable, I don’t think that’s the solution that either industry wants or should be waiting for. I think the industry should take this issue on, and build the transparency so we can all learn the lessons that we need to learn.
Williams: The other side of this is that a lot of the Coast Guard data is vessel based, and it shows up in other government databases. I think we have a big obligation to make the data the most accessible and the most transparent, so thinking about that, it would be good sometimes and maybe you do have systems where you can look at owner-based data and things like that.
Thomas: We do, and if you’ve ever seen the Coast Guard’s annual port state control report, we report out in terms of performance by type of vessel, by flag, by class society. That’s the kind of thing we are talking about with our joint report.
Williams: One of the things it says in the NAS report is about defining accountabilities between the three regulators – BSEE, Coast Guard, and U.S. Department of Transportation Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) – about implementation plans relative to offshore safety culture. It’s kind of an interesting thing, if you’d like to say anything about that.
Salerno: Between Coast Guard and BSEE, there’s an ongoing dialogue. It’s been formalized in many ways with memorandums of understanding and exchange of data, people, training and so forth. I think that’s really on a good track. PHMSA is an entity that we need to tighten the relationship, but it’s become a lot tighter over the past couple of years. I serve on PHMSA’s advisory board for liquid pipelines and my organization and I also engage with PHMSA and the Canadian National Energy Board, specifically in areas of safety culture. The National Energy Board has done a lot of work on safety culture. They’ve hired some real experts to look at it. They’re looking at how to develop indicators of good safety culture, similar to the work that COS is doing, and in many ways, complimentary efforts. That needs to continue.
I think from a practical standpoint, BSEE needs to have a closer relationship with PHMSA operationally, more like what we have with the Coast Guard, because the infrastructure is all interconnected. Sometimes, it gets a little confusing which agency has oversight or who should be talking to the company. That is an item we are actively working on. The relationship is a good one, so I do see resolution there.
Thomas: I found this particular recommendation intriguing and I wish I was able to discuss the real intent with the authors. We do have a number of formalized agreements between our two agencies that specify who’s responsible for what and where our authorities overlap and, when they do, how do we treat it. I think the next level is to focus on agreements specifically with assessing and facilitating safety culture, and we haven’t gotten there yet. Those are things like, ‘how do we share information in a systematic way that allows you to better target your resources based on our assessment of culture.’ That, I think is the next step for us.
Williams: The NAS report recommends Coast Guard SEMS requirements should be consistent with those published by BSEE. What are your thoughts?
Thomas: We are pursuing safety management system regulations. Congress asked us to provide them some analysis before we moved into the rulemaking process and we’ve done that; we’re working on the next steps with that rulemaking. Certainly, we want to make sure that it works very well with BSEE SEMS and, for units or vessels that are covered by SEMS, we want to make sure it covers the gaps that exist, because there are gaps that exist.
Again, for an operator who has achieved a safety culture, I think they really want to make sure all the players they have to operate with have a safety culture. A requirement for a safety management system is almost a prerequisite for a safety culture. We have to fill the gaps out there, and we’re moving ahead with that regulatory project.
Williams: The NAS report recommends that we should adopt the BSEE definition of safety culture that came out a few years ago. Have you begun to assess your own safety culture and do you have learnings you can share with industry from that assessment?
Thomas: I come from an organization that has a very strong and deeply embedded safety culture. Anytime we launch a boat off of a ship, we do an operational risk management assessment that asks questions and allows the people doing the operation to really think about the risk. I think in terms of building safety culture in the Coast Guard, it’s been a focus. Every now and then we get wake up calls – a number of years ago we had a couple of aviation accidents that made us go back and reassess that – but we have the luxury to really build a strong safety culture.
Salerno: It’s important for anyone who’s regulating to walk the walk. When BSEE came out with its safety culture policy, there was an outwardly facing component, which was shared, but there was an inwardly facing one as well. It was put into place by my predecessor, Jim Watson, and we’ve kept it in place because it needs to be in place. All those same things – leadership, inquisitive attitude and management of change –apply internally as much as they apply externally.
BSEE is a fairly young organization. It’s set of needs are a little bit different than the Coast Guard, because the Coast Guard is also an operating agency – they operate ships, boats and planes – and those things really have to be managed in a safety context. From my perspective, BSEE needs more of a personnel safety focus. I put people into hazardous environments, we fly everyday – multiple takeoffs and landings – so there are real safety concerns. The policies, the training and the oversight – all of that is there, so it would look very familiar to anyone in this room.
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.
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