Engineer in the oil field reading report on laptop for Pipeline SMS

Pipeline SMS Annual Report: Progress On the Path to Zero Incidents

In the five years since the framework for Pipeline Safety Management Systems (Pipeline SMS) was introduced in API RP 1173, companies in the pipeline industry have progressively advanced their pipeline safety capabilities. However, there are still important steps that need to be taken to support culture change to reach the industry-wide goal of zero incidents.

In the recently-released Pipeline Safety Management Systems 2019 Annual Report, the Pipeline SMS Industry Team reported their latest findings on the progress being made toward the zero incidents goal.

The report focused on how all segments of the pipeline industry demonstrated progress on their journey to Pipeline SMS implementation in 2019 through increased participation and commitment. The Pipeline SMS team identified four key areas where progress was captured:

  • Increased industry participation
  • Increased external engagement
  • Support for the operator journey
  • Additional oversight and governance

Additionally, the Pipeline SMS team identified more opportunities to overcome implementation barriers that have slowed some operators on their journey to Pipeline SMS changes.

Barriers to Overcome in Pipeline SMS Implementation

In a mature industry such as pipeline operations, it’s expected that any significant change will initially be met with resistance.

In the annual report, the Pipeline SMS team noted the barriers to implementation they have observed:

  • Lack of staff or resources to support implementation.
  • Lack of commitment to the Pipeline SMS effort throughout the operation.
  • Arduous task of combining existing internal processes and procedures into a written Pipeline SMS plan.
  • Challenge of integrating PIpeline SMS in an existing, mature, and effective management system.

To help operators overcome these common barriers in 2020, the Pipeline SMS team is focused on developing value-add tools and trainings to help operators take the first step of recognizing the importance of Pipeline SMS implementation and then have the tools to support each critical step on the journey.

– For operators that need to achieve top-down buy-in and executive support, the Pipeline SMS team noted the importance of operators needing to make Pipeline SMS a strategic priority. This may include dedicated staff support to provide research, implementation, and the development of the core elements of Pipeline SMS.

– For operators that have bought in, but they need tools to take the next step, the Pipeline SMS team noted recent success for operators that have used the following tools:

Challenges to Overcome on the Pipeline SMS Journey

Once operators start the journey to Pipeline SMS implementation, they often find new hurdles to overcome. This often slows progress on the journey.

Two statistics in the annual Pipeline SMS report capture the overall challenge for pipeline operators:

  • 83% of surveyed operators said their operation is committed to Pipeline SMS implementation.
  • Yet only 58% of surveyed pipeline operators said that implementation progress was steady or on track.

What can be concluded? Operators are committing to Pipeline SMS implementation, but for many operators, it seems like a stop-start-stop-start process trying to build upon each step on the journey.

The gap between commitment and progress is captured by the latest challenges that operators reported in 2019:

  • Operational controls
  • Stakeholder engagement
  • Documentation & recordkeeping
  • Risk Management
  • Management review
  • Continuous Improvement

A dip in stakeholder engagement can slow progress. An outdated or unreliable method of recordkeeping can slow progress. Operation-wide resistance or falling back on “this is how we do it” thinking can slow progress. A lack of follow-through to support continuous improvement can slow progress.

What do these issues point to? The need to continue developing a strong safety culture as the backbone of Pipeline SMS implementation.

Safety Culture to Close the Zero Incidents Gap

On the May 5th edition of the Pipeliners Podcast, PHMSA Administrator Howard “Skip” Elliott noted that for the industry to close the small, yet significant, gap in pipeline incidents to reach zero incidents, there needs to be a change of culture through safety management systems.

This cultural change needs to be top-down to include leadership and employees. And, it starts with assessing the safety culture.

The annual report noted that 66% of surveyed operators have assessed their safety culture. While this percentage continues to increase each year as more operators buy into Pipeline SMS implementation, there could be more industry buy-in for pipeline safety culture.

After all, the framework for Pipeline SMS (API 1173) makes the point that an effective Pipeline Safety Management System “cannot exist without a positive safety culture.”

Recognizing the need to increase the emphasis on cultural change, the Pipeline SMS team noted in their report that they plan to work toward breaking down barriers and supporting pipeline safety culture through increased efforts in 2020. The specific actions include:

  • Increase external participation
  • Ensure proactive external engagement
  • Provide ongoing support for the operator journey
  • Provide additional governance and oversight

Specific to governance and oversight, the Pipeline SMS team is planning to develop a culture survey for operator use, as well as develop a third-party voluntary assessment and provide more education through workshops and webinars.

How EnerSys Can Support Your Pipeline SMS Journey

The annual report from the Pipeline SMS Industry team provides an encouraging look at the progress being made throughout the industry to support pipeline safety.

However, the barriers, challenges, and cultural issues in pipeline operations are not easily conquered. You need support on the journey to take each progressive step.

Earlier this year, we announced the decision to update our software and services to align with Pipeline SMS to elevate our support for pipeline operators. Through this combination of expertise and industry-accepted software support, we can help operators overcome each hurdle on your respective Pipeline SMS journey.

We would appreciate the opportunity to discuss your challenges and work toward a solution specific to your operation.

To discuss the implementation of Pipeline SMS for your operation, contact us today through our website form, by calling 281-598-7100, or emailing