Workers on Doomed Rig Voiced Concern About Safety
By IAN URBINA Published: July 21, 2010 New York Times
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 that company plans were not carried out properly and that 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.
“At nine years old, Deepwater Horizon has never been in dry dock,” one worker told investigators. “We can only work around so much.”
“Run it, break it, fix it,” another 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, even though guidelines require inspection of the preventer every three to five years.
The report cited at least 26 components and systems on the rig that were in “bad” or “poor” condition.
A spokesman for Transocean, who confirmed the existence of the reports, wrote in an e-mail message 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
. The spokesman, Lou Colasuonno, commenting on the 33-page report about workers’ safety concerns, 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 been polluting the Gulf of Mexico for months.
Transocean has sought in federal court to limit its liability to $27 million under the limitation of liability act of 1851. Under the law, the limitation of liability is removed if the vessel owner acted negligently.
has been under the harshest glare for its role, but the Justice Department has said its criminal investigation of the disaster will look at the role of the many companies involved.
Together, these new reports paint a detailed picture of Transocean’s upkeep of the rig, 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 its “safety culture” and was conducted by a division of Lloyd’s Register Group, a maritime and risk-management organization that dispatched two investigators to inspect the rig March 12 through 16. They conducted focus groups and one-on-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.
These investigators were scheduled to inspect the rig in April. While 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.” Workers believed teamwork on the rig was effective, and 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.