Is it time for the tyranny of the "Company Man" to come to a close?
It is becoming apparent that in the Deepwater Horizon disaster that a number of decisions made by BP's representative on the rig, the so called "Company man" were irresponsible and may have lead to the disaster. Decisions about continuing operations after an accidental movement of the casing while the BOP pipe rams were closed, causing damage to the sealing elements in the BOP and decisions about opening the rams and replacing the heavy mud with seawater when pressure tests indicated that there was pressure on the wellhead side of the BOP when there should not have been any are just two of them.
Now, deepwater offshore operations are extremely costly, and the Company Man is obligated to keep the schedule (or beat it) and this job was already overdue. But he should not be allowed to risk the ship or the crew (or the entire offshore oil industry as well as the fishing industry) in doing so. Currently the command structure is such that nobody on the rig can countermand the "Company man" and not expect to be summarily dismissed. I would suggest that there should be some way in which the Driller, or one of the other managers on the rig should be able to call a halt to operations and bring people from MMS and representatives of the companies to the virtual table (remember this is a costly endeavor so a conference call/video conferencing should probably be the mechanism used.) to discuss the commands of the Company man in situations where safety may be compromised without being in fear of losing their jobs.
My thinking is that instead of having a single person in charge, you need a committee, and a small one at that so things don't get bogged down. 3 or 4 people at most. The Captain or the first officer depending on the watch, the Driller or his appointee for the specific watch, and the company man or his appointee, and a representative from the MMS. With representatives from the various contractors in a non-voting advisory capacity. Meetings should be held at least once per watch/shift and recorded and copied to the bosses onshore. And those four people should be joined at the hip even when the meeting is not in session. In that manner, all of the major constituencies get a say in the operations and the owner of the rig has the most say since he has two representatives on the committee. I'm not sure how a tie should be broken, I need to think about that a bit more, perhaps in the event of a tie the non-voting advisers should get a collective vote as a tie breaker. That way you don't have one person shoving things down everyone's throat and anyone who is risking the safety of the rig must do it in front of everyone, including his boss.