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Culture of safety may reduce offshore oil rig accidents

According to safety analysts, the risk of offshore accidents is not adequately monitored by the safety metrics offshore oil and gas industry officials utilize. Rather than giving due attention to unsafe practices as a whole, experts claim, the offshore industry focuses on individual injuries as representative of overall safety.

Louisiana residents may not be aware that oil rig owners are responsible for the safety of their offshore workers. According to maritime law, they are not only obligated to provide free medical care and necessary living costs to injured offshore workers, but they are responsible for enforcing policies that create a safe working environment.

Safety officials allege that the offshore industry's focus on injury statistics alone has prevented companies from recognizing large-scale safety problems with their everyday procedures and operations.

However, the environment of not reporting injuries is equally harmful -- without injured workers reporting their injuries, companies are unable to gauge how safe their operation is. Underreporting leads management to believe that changes may not be in order when productivity is high rather than the reality of the situation, which may very well be the opposite. In fact, some companies involved in major oil spills had celebrated excellent on-the-job safety records just before the catastrophic events took place.

According to witnesses at a recent U.S. Chemical Safety Board public hearing held in Texas, workdays lost due to injuries and worker injury rates are not actually relevant to study the overall safety of offshore operations. In fact, they went so far as to say that these statistics are completely irrelevant when it comes to preventing major accidents.

The chairman of the National Research Council committee on offshore safety management systems indicated that the best way to prevent offshore accidents is to encourage a culture of safety throughout the operation. He explained that building a culture of safety involves workers making decisions that actively reduce risk. Building a culture of safety starts at the highest levels of management, but also must work its way down to line workers.

Louisiana offshore workers injured during the course of their employment should not hesitate from reporting accidents. Not only will workers be able to file a workers' compensation claim to receive compensation to which they are entitled, but they will raise awareness about possibly unsafe conditions on the offshore operation.

Source: The Houston Chronicle, "Offshore safety experts say big picture missed," Simone Sebastian, July 24, 2012

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