Oil Workers May Halt Work They Deem Unsafe | Courthouse News Service
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Oil Workers May Halt Work They Deem Unsafe

WASHINGTON (CN) - The U.S. Department of the Interior is adopting new rules that give employees authority to stop work on offshore drilling rigs when they witness unsafe conditions, the agency has announced. Oil companies do not have to comply with the new regulations for 14 months, however.

The new oil rig Safety and Environmental Management Systems (SEMS) rules are meant to get workers involved in safety procedures, and require developing and implementing stop work authority (SWA) and ultimate work authority (UWA), an employee participation plan (EPP), and establishing guidelines for reporting unsafe working conditions. The rules also establish additional requirements for conducting job safety analyses (JSA), and require that SEMS programs be audited by an accredited audit service provider (ASP).

Although the rules become effective June 4, 2013, oil companies are not required to put the systems into place for a year, and independent audits are not required until June 4, 2015.

The rules are in addition to current SEMS regulations, which were meant to reduce the likelihood of another disaster like the British Petroleum explosion and consequent oil spill that killed 11 workers and wreaked environmental havoc up and down U.S. coastal waters on the Gulf of Mexico.

Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) director Jim Watson said the new rules would help curtail future accidents, like the BP spill, the largest offshore oil spill in U.S. history.

"This final rule will require operators to integrate new requirements into their existing SEMS programs to enhance the program and facilitate oversight," according to the BSEE, which receives its authority under the Department of the Interior.

The rules consist of six new provisions, which, in part, allow workers who witness unsafe or hazardous conditions to halt operations.

The Stop Work Authority (SWA) provision "creates procedures that establish SWA and make responsible any and all personnel who witness an activity that is creating imminent risk or danger to stop work," according to the agency.

In addition, the Employee Participation Plan (EPP) "provides an environment that promotes participation by employees and management in order to eliminate or mitigate hazards on the OCS (Outer Continental Shelf)," according to the agency.

The BSEE estimated the average annual cost of complying with the new rules will run in the $17 million range, "spread across all OCS oil and gas operators with active operations."

The money, the agency adds, is well worth it when considering lives lost, the environmental impacts and dollar amount associated with clean up, which, in the case of the BP oil spill, cost in the billions of dollars, according to the agency.

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