It’s hard to believe that it’s been 10 years since the Deepwater Horizon incident on April 20th 2010. Even today, the Gulf Coast is still feeling the effects. In its latest estimates, BP is looking at a total loss of $65Bn USD, in settlements, fines and compensation. This latest estimate was published in the Maritime Executive, April 23rd, 2020.
Therefore, have we learned anything from Deepwater Horizon about the perils of cost-cutting and/or not properly testing high-risk, high-impact safety equipment? Apparently not, since we’re still seeing accidents occurring today. Fortunately, not on the scale of Deepwater Horizon but nonetheless still devastating to the families of those affected by accidents. According to the Department of Labor, 36 workers have died in explosion-related accidents from 2017 to 2019, in addition 10 died from burns and a further 21 asphyxiated, during the same period, whereby the companies involved received a citation for safety violations. This is just the number of fatalities reported, where companies were cited for safety violations, but this still totals 67 in all.
It never ceases to amaze me that some companies still do not appreciate the potential cost and scale the impact of an accident can have, not just in human terms, but also in terms of credibility, business loss and loss of reputation. The short-term mindset of cost cutting versus the longer-term safe running of the plant, still seems to occur. Even if companies claim they care about the safety of their employees and safe operation of their plants, the numbers of accidents and, moreover, fatalities, is still too high. In relative terms, the cost of an accident far outweighs the cost of implementing functional and process safety in plants. For the sake of investing a few hundred thousand dollars in preventative measures, companies are risking potentially millions of dollars in loss revenue, fines and litigation. In some cases, this has been enough to send a company into receivership and/or to file for Chapter 11.
Understanding and following RAGAGEP (Recognized and Generally Accepted Good Engineering Practice), such as IEC61511, will help companies manage risk and reduce the likelihood of a serious accident. The more companies embrace and adopt this, the less likely we will see another Deepwater Horizon. If not, then it’s not a question of if but more a question of when.