By Scott Tessier
I write in response to the Telegram editorial of Sept. 14 concerning the release of information by the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) following the Cougar helicopter near-miss incident of July 2011.
The investigation of aviation incidents such as this one is the mandate of the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) under the Canadian Transportation Accident Investigation and Safety Board Act.
Once a TSB investigation is underway, the public release of information concerning the details or causes of an incident is also the mandate of the TSB. The TSB has deemed it appropriate to issue information during the course of other investigations, but does not always do so.
In light of its mandate with respect to offshore worker safety, the CNLOPB publicly issued an initial incident bulletin on July 23, 2011, the day of the occurrence, containing the confirmed information available at the time.
On Aug. 11, 2011, the CNLOPB publicly issued an update confirming that the incident was serious, that a TSB investigation had begun, and that the CNLOPB would be following up with the operator and Cougar Helicopters to ensure appropriate followup actions were being taken. Queries made to the CNLOPB about the incident at this time were referred to the TSB. These two updates remain on the CNLOPB website should readers wish to review them.
Local operators learned of the incident the day it occurred. The CNLOPB expects operators to communicate with their employees in cases such as this.
Questions have been raised about whether those initial notices by the CNLOPB adequately conveyed the serious nature of the incident. It is important to realize that the CNLOPB was not privy to all of the facts collected as the TSB investigation proceeded, and it would therefore have been inappropriate for the CNLOPB to comment on the details of the incident, or attempt to describe its seriousness to the public.
Following from the tragic Cougar 491 accident in 2009, the CNLOPB has access to significant aviation expertise. This enabled the board to act quickly and wisely following the 2011 incident. Based on the experience of and the information available to the board’s chief safety officer and aviation adviser in the weeks following the 2011 near-miss, the board anticipated that additional pilot training in the areas of spatial disorientation and unusual attitude recovery would be helpful in enhancing the safety of offshore workers. Measures were put in place in this regard, working with operators, Cougar and the workforce. This action was proven to be prescient in the final TSB report, released on Sept. 12, 2013.
The near-miss of 2011 is another reminder of the risks of offshore work. The CNLOPB puts the safety of offshore workers first and remains committed to operating transparently while respecting the jurisdiction of other regulatory agencies. We will continue to provide as much information as we can in incidents affecting the safety of offshore workers, working within our mandate and in a responsible and timely manner.
Just as the process of improving offshore safety has no finish line, our efforts with respect to better communication are also continuous.
Scott Tessier is chairman and chief executive officer of the CNLOPB.