Rig workers had safety concerns before blast
Survey shows many feared retaliation for reporting issues
WASHINGTON — A confidential survey of workers on the Deepwater Horizon in the weeks before the oil rig exploded showed that many of them were concerned about safety practices and feared reprisals if they reported mistakes or other problems.
In the survey, commissioned by the rig’s owner, Transocean, workers said company plans weren’t carried out properly and they “often saw unsafe behaviors on the rig.”
Some workers also voiced concerns about poor equipment reliability, “which they believed was as a result of drilling priorities taking precedence over planned maintenance,” according to the survey, one of two Transocean reports obtained by The New York Times.
“Run it, break it, fix it,” one worker said. “That’s how they work.”
According to a separate 112-page equipment assessment also commissioned by Transocean, many key components — including the blowout preventer rams and failsafe valves — had not been fully inspected since 2000, although guidelines require inspection every three to five years.
The report cited at least 26 components and systems on the rig in “bad” or “poor” condition.
Transocean spokesman Lou Colasuonno wrote in an e-mail that most of the 26 components on the rig found to be in poor condition were minor and that all elements of the blowout preventer had been inspected within the required time frame by its original manufacturer, Cameron.
Colasuonno, commenting on the report about workers’ safety con-
cerns, noted that the Deepwater Horizon had seven consecutive years without a single lost-time incident or major environmental event.
The two reports are likely to broaden the discussion of blame for the April 20 explosion, which killed 11 workers and led to the gusher on the seafloor that has polluted the Gulf of Mexico for months.
Together, these new reports paint a detailed picture of Transocean’s upkeep of the rig, its decision-making and its personnel.
BP was leasing the rig from Transocean, and 79 of the 126 people on the rig the day it exploded were Transocean employees.
The first report focused on the rig’s “safety culture” and was conducted by a division of Lloyd’s Register Group, a maritime and risk-management group that dispatched two investigators to inspect the rig March 12-16. They conducted focus groups and oneon-one interviews with at least 40 Transocean workers.
The second report, on the status of the rig’s equipment, was produced by four investigators from a separate division of Lloyd’s Register Group, also on behalf of Transocean.
Although the report described workers’ concerns about safety and fears of reprisals, it did say that the rig was “relatively strong in many of the core aspects of safety management” on the rig.
Workers believed teamwork on the rig was effective, and that they were mostly worried about the reaction of managers off the rig.
“Almost everyone felt they could raise safety concerns and these issues would be acted upon if this was within the immediate control of the rig,” said the report, which also found that more than 97 percent of workers felt encouraged to raise ideas for safety improvements and more than 90 percent felt encouraged to participate in safety-improvement initiatives.
But investigators also said, “It must be stated at this point, however, that the workforce felt that this level of influence was restricted to issues that could be resolved directly on the rig, and that they had little influence at Divisional or Corporate levels.”
Only about half of the workers interviewed said they felt they could report actions leading to a potentially “risky” situation without reprisal.
“This fear was seen to be driven by decisions made in Houston, rather than those made by rig based leaders,” the report said.
“I’m petrified of dropping anything from heights not because I’m afraid of hurting anyone (the area is barriered off), but because I’m afraid of getting fired,” one worker wrote.
“The company is always using fear tactics,” another worker said. “All these games, and your mind gets tired.”
Investigators also said “nearly everyone” among the workers they interviewed believed that Transocean’s system for tracking health and safety issues on the rig was “counter productive.”
Many workers entered fake data to try to circumvent the system, known as See, Think, Act, Reinforce, Track — or Start. As a result, the company’s perception of safety on the rig was distorted, the report concluded.
Even though it was more than a month before the explosion, the rig’s safety audit was conducted against the backdrop of what seems to have been a losing battle to control the well.
On the March visit, Lloyd’s investigators reported “a high degree of focus and activity relating to well control issues,” adding that “specialists were aboard the rig to conduct subsea explosions to help alleviate these well control issues.”
The mechanical problems discovered by investigators found problems with the rig’s ballast system that they said could directly affect the stability of the ship. They also concluded that at least one of the rig’s mud pumps was in “bad condition.”
The report also cited the rig’s malfunctioning pressure gauge and leaking parts and faulted the decision by workers to use a type of sealant proved “to be a major cause of pump bearing failure.”
The equipment report says the blowout preventer’s control panels were in fair condition, but it also cites a range of problems, including a leaking door seal, a diaphragm on the purge air pump needing replacement and several error-response messages.
The device’s annulars, which are large valves used to control wellbore fluids, also encountered “extraordinary difficulties” surrounding their maintenance, the report said.
Despite the problems, multiple pressure tests were taken of the blowout preventer’s annulars and rams and the results were deemed “acceptable,” the report said.
Petroleum Helicopters Inc. employees sign a petition to lift the deepwater drilling moratorium before a demonstration called the Rally for Economic Survival in Lafayette, La., on Wednesday.