May 25, 2016



Strengthening and Sustaining Strong Safety Culture for Offshore Oil and Gas Operations Requires Collective Action Among Industry and Regulators


WASHINGTON – To transform the offshore oil and gas industry’s safety culture, operators, contractors, subcontractors, associations representing these groups, and federal regulators should collaborate to foster safety throughout all levels of the industry and confront challenges collectively, says a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.


The industry also should implement the recommendation of the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling that called for an independent organization dedicated to safety and environmental protection, with no advocacy role.  The Center for Offshore Safety, created by the American Petroleum Institute (API) immediately after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon blowout and oil spill, could be made independent of API to serve this purpose, with membership in the center as a requirement for all organizations working in the offshore oil and gas industry.


About 75 operators, 17 drilling contractors, and more than 1,000 contractors/subcontractors varying in size and financial resources support offshore drilling, production, and construction activities in the Gulf of Mexico.  Because of differing safety perspectives and economic interests, offshore oil and gas companies do not all belong to a single industry association that speaks with one voice regarding safety, the report says.  Several challenges exist in setting and implementing consistent goals for safety practices and culture, including the varied commitment among organization leaders to having a strong safety culture, variation in the types of organizations that may work on a single drilling site, heterogeneity of practices such as supervision and training, and diversity of employees’ safety attitudes and educational backgrounds. 


The industry as a whole should create additional guidance for establishing safety culture expectations and responsibilities among operators, contractors, and subcontractors.  Regulators -- the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE), U.S. Coast Guard, and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration -- should participate in these efforts and help ensure consistency.  Once the industry has agreed upon steps to achieve safety and environmental goals, all organizations involved should be responsible for developing their own strategies for executing this overall plan.


“Successful culture change is a long-term effort, entailing considerable uncertainties and investments,” said Nancy Tippins, principal consultant at CEB and chair of the committee that conducted the study and wrote the report. “It is essential that industry and regulators go beyond ideas and possibilities and develop concrete plans for creating a commitment to a culture that establishes and maintains a safe working environment.”


The committee recommended that the offshore industry and government regulators adopt BSEE’s definition of safety culture -- the core values and behaviors of all members of an organization that reflect a commitment to conduct business in a manner that protects people and the environment.  In addition, the secretary of the interior and the commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard should encourage prominent leaders in the offshore industry to champion the nine characteristics of an effective safety culture identified by BSEE, develop guidance for safety culture assessment and improvement, and facilitate information exchange and sharing of experiences in promoting safety culture.  BSEE’s characteristics of an effective safety culture are: 1) leadership commitment to safety values and actions, 2) respectful work environment, 3) environment for raising concerns, 4) effective safety and environmental communication, 5) personal accountability, 6) inquiring attitude, 7) hazard identification and risk management, 8) work processes, and 9) continuous improvement. 


Operators and contractors should assess their safety cultures regularly using multiple methods, the report says, because no single approach provides a complete picture.  When feasible, organizations should seek to acquire internal assessment expertise so they can manage the process, interpret results, and increase their ownership and accountability for the results.


A commonly noted problem in studying accidents in the offshore oil and gas industry is the lack of complete and accurate data related to accidents and near misses.  Therefore, regulators and the industry should define the factors necessary for understanding the precursors to accidents, determine what data need to be submitted to which regulatory agencies, regularly collect and analyze data, and share findings across the industry.  Because accident, incident, and inspection data all are needed to identify and understand safety risks and corrective actions, the committee recommends that regulators make the data publicly available in a timely way, taking into consideration applicable confidentiality requirements.

Offshore oil and gas operations are highly complex and pose the risk of injury or death to workers, explosions, blowouts, and oil spills, with associated contamination of the marine environment.  The industry’s advance from shallow water into deep water of up to 10,000 feet has increased the dangers to a workforce already engaged in an intrinsically hazardous occupation.  In 2013, federal offshore operations in the Gulf of Mexico accounted for 17 percent of total crude oil production, and according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, that portion is expected to increase to 21 percent in 2017, despite the current downturn in oil prices. 


The study was supported with funds designated for the National Academy of Sciences as a community service payment arising out of a plea agreement entered into between the United States Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Louisiana and Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Company.  The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine are private, nonprofit institutions that provide independent, objective analysis and advice to the nation to solve complex problems and inform public policy decisions related to science, technology, and medicine.  They operate under an 1863 congressional charter to the National Academy of Sciences, signed by President Lincoln.  For more information, visit http://national-academies.orgA committee roster follows.



Dana Korsen, Media Officer

Emily Raschke, Media Assistant

Office of News and Public Information

202-334-2138; e-mail

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Copies of Strengthening the Safety Culture of the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry are available from the National Academies Press on the Internet at  or by calling 202-334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a copy from the Office of News and Public Information (contacts listed above).


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Transportation Research Board


Committee on Offshore Oil and Gas Industry Safety Culture: A Framing Study


Nancy T. Tippins (chair)

Principal Consultant
CEB Greenville, S.C.


Deborah A. Boehm-Davis

Dean and Professor

College of Humanities and Social Sciences
George Mason University

Fairfax, Va.


John S. Carroll

Sloan School of Management
Massachusetts Institute of Technology



Elmer P. Danenberger III

Independent Consultant

Reston, Va.


David A. Hofmann

Professor and Area Chair of Organizational Behavior

Kenan-Flagler Business School
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill


William C. Hoyle

Senior Investigator
U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (retired)

Salt Lake City


Robert Krzywicki

DuPont (retired); and

Independent Consultant

Ocean Isle Beach, N.C.


Todd R. LaPorte

Professor Emeritus
Department of Political Science
University of California



Karlene H. Roberts

Professor Emeritus
Haas School of Business
University of California



Peter K. Velez

Peter Velez Engineering LLC



Timothy Vogus

Associate Professor
Owen Graduate School of Management
Vanderbilt University

Nashville, Tenn.


James A. Watson IV  

Rear Admiral

U.S. Coast Guard (retired); and

President and Chief Operating Officer
Americas Division
American Bureau of Shipping



Warner M. Williams

Chevron Corporation (retired); and

President and CEO
Warner M. Williams LLC

Covington, La.




Camilla Y. Ables

Study Director