Rig work­ers had safety con­cerns be­fore blast

Sur­vey shows many feared re­tal­i­a­tion for re­port­ing is­sues

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Ian Urbina

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.

denny Cul­bert

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.

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