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Six lessons from the BP oil spill

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But the Government Accountability Office, the Inspector General's Office, and engineering experts who oversaw a 30-day safety report on offshore drilling all want more. Norway, the United Kingdom, and Australia have some of the world's best safety practices and regulations, they say.

After the 1988 Piper Alpha rig disaster in the North Sea, where 167 people died, Britain separated safety oversight from other regulatory functions. Instead of a rules-based approach, not unlike that of the US today, it adopted a "case based" system that describes objectives – then challenges companies to show they can meet them.

Needed, too, is better testing of critical BOP equipment, like blind-shear rams. "What we really need are specific guidelines for how these things must be tested – and then have the results go into a computer accessible by everyone," says Benton Baugh, a BOP expert.

Yet all the testing and offshore police in the world can't overcome human error. Robert Bea, a safety engineering expert at the University of California, Berkeley, says the need is to focus on how people react and interact with complex safety systems when the siren goes off.

"We've neglected the human things," he says, "the designers, the people that operate [BOPs], the people that maintain them, the people who have to handle rapidly developing crises."

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