Saturday, October 8, 2011

You Want Safety Culture? Then Pass a Law.

On October 7, 2011 California governor Brown signed SB 705 authored by state senator Mark Leno. 

The Leno bill, among many others, was inspired by a major gas pipeline explosion that occurred September 9, 2010 in San Bruno, CA resulting in multiple fatalities.  The ensuing investigations have identified a familiar litany of contributing causes: defective welds, ineffective maintenance practices, missing and incomplete records, and lax corporate management.

SB 705 adds Sections 961 and 963 to the Public Utilities Code.  Section 961 requires each gas corporation to “develop a plan for the safe and reliable operation of its commission-regulated gas pipeline facility. . . .”* (§ 961(b)(1))

Section 963 states “It is the policy of the state that the commission and each gas corporation place safety of the public and gas corporation employees as the top priority. [emphasis added]  The commission shall take all reasonable and appropriate actions necessary to carry out the safety priority policy of this paragraph consistent with the principle of just and reasonable cost-based rates.”* (§ 963(b)(3))

I was surprised that an unambiguous statement about safety’s importance was apparently missing from the state’s code.  I give senator Leno full credit for this vital contribution.

Of course, he couldn’t leave well enough alone and was quoted as saying “It’s not going to fix the situation overnight, but it changes the culture immediately.”** [emphasis added]

Now this comment is typical political braggadocio, and the culture will not change “immediately.”  However, this law will make safety more prominent on the corporate radar and eventually there should be responsive changes in policies, practices, procedures and behaviors.

*  Bill Text: CA Senate Bill 705 - 2011-2012 Regular Session

**  W. Buchanan, “Governor signs bill forcing automatic pipe valves,” S.F. Chronicle (Oct. 8, 2011). 

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