The US regulator of offshore oil and gas drilling has finalised a new set of rules aimed at enhancing safety for workers.
The latest requirements from the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (BSEE) build on previous guidelines known as the Safety and Environmental Management Systems (Sems) regulations by adding in greater employee participation and strengthening oversight through third-party audits.
The original Sems rule, also known as the workplace safety rule, made mandatory the previously voluntary practises recommended by the American Petroleum Institute and were put in place issued in 2010 following the fatal Macondo disaster in the Gulf of Mexico.
Under the new rules, known as Sems II, operators will be required to implement a "stop work authority" that enables any offshore worker at any time to halt activities if he or she witnesses "an imminent risk or dangerous activity".
Sems II also requires operators to clearly define who has ultimate authority for operational safety at a facility at any given time and establishes guidelines for reporting unsafe working conditions.
"Offshore oil and gas safety starts with a robust positive safety culture, and BSEE's workplace safety rules are designed to promote that culture by eliminating complacency and making sure that companies are looking at the human factors that underlie too many accidents,” the agency's director Jim Watson said in a statement. "This effort takes another important step towards protecting workers and the environment from preventable accidents."
The Sems II rules become effective on 4 June.
Some critics have said the new rules will prove too burdensome for operators, but the US Interior Department contends that drillers have already done most of the work necessary to comply after instituting the original Sems requirements and that the new rules are just fine-tuning.
The department estimates the new measures will cost industry about $17 million a year, according to a Reuters report.