Health and Safety in Light of the Deepwater Rig Disaster

Oil & Gas IQ

Of all the issues that have arisen from the oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico, the responsibility of companies for health and safety is one which is likely to take some time to resolve.

At last count 22,000 people were assisting with the clean-up of the BP spill and more than 1,200 vessels were involved in the operation.


BP is also conducting an internal investigation, the preliminary results of which it shared with the United States government's Department of Interior.

In total seven variables involving both equipment and processes were identified as areas for further investigation. These included the cement that seals the reservoir from the well, pressure tests to ensure the well is sealed, the emergency disconnect system and the procedures which monitor hydrocarbons in the well.

The company's chief executive Tony Hayward said: "A number of companies are involved, including BP, and it is simply too early–and not up to us–to say who is at fault.

"This was a tragic accident and we need to understand the causes of it to try to ensure that nothing like it ever happens again."

Revised Health and Safety Guidelines

The United States Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) has already taken the step of drawing up health and safety guidelines for the training of individuals involved in cleaning up the oil.

A series of different programmes have been developed to meet the health and safety needs of workers dealing with the various operations surrounding the clean-up, ranging from a one-hour course to a 40-hour programme.

The extended 40-hour programme is required for employees involved in supervising the clean-up or those who are likely to be in direct contact with oil. It encompasses "makeup and risks associated with the hazardous material(s) involved, and experience with the equipment needed for the work, safety gear and local environment."

OSHA is involved in monitoring both the training and the clean-up operations currently taking place.

Secretary of Labor Hilda L Solis said: "I've directed OSHA to work closely with BP to ensure training of clean-up employees is prompt, thorough and sufficient, and conducted in languages that the workers understand."

International and Industry Response

The consequences of the US oil spill stretch far beyond the borders of the United States, and the oil industry in the UK has also issued a response to the disaster.

Robert Paterson, Oil & Gas UK's health and safety director, made assurances that the processes in place in the country meant that similar incidents were unlikely to happen.

Paterson said that the "goal setting" nature of the UK system, along with the oversight of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and a comprehensive system of checks made the process very effective.

"This less prescriptive type of regulation, which is centred on the goal of achieving no releases at all, enables a more responsive approach because it allows companies to implement the latest technology as and when it becomes available rather than waiting for regulations to be updated," he explained.

The expert also highlighted the use of independent competent persons within the UK system, who examine many aspects of the well for design, construction and maintenance.

In response to the disaster, the American Petroleum Institute highlighted the set of more than 40 standards in place relating to offshore drilling.

API described the incident as "a powerful incentive to improve training, operational procedures, regulations, industry standards and technology."

However, the industry has already spoken out against a rise in the oil spill liability trust fund, stating that the increased cost would mean that only the largest firms would be able to operate in the Gulf of Mexico.