"Everything was fine"*: an analysis of the drill crew's situation awareness on Deepwater Horizon

R. Roberts*, R. Flin, J. Cleland

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

22 Citations (Scopus)


Purpose: Investigation reports into the Deepwater Horizon drilling rig disaster identified issues with the drill crew's situation awareness (SA). The aim was to (1) apply the Driller's Situation Awareness (DSA) model to the cognitive data extracted from accident reports from this event to determine if it could help to explain why the crew erroneously concluded that the well was stable, which would (2) provide a preliminary evaluation of the model's validity. 

Method: The DSA model was used for a content analysis of the SA components in the accounts of the crew's actions during two Negative Pressure Tests (NPT), in the hours before the blowout. 

Results: The analysis provided (1) insight into the crew's likely cognitive processes before the blowout. In particular, it revealed issues with their interpretation and mental models of the well state, as well as possible influencing factors including expectation, distraction and experience, emphasising the impact that SA can have on process safety. The categorisation has (2) initially suggested that the DSA model does contain the appropriate components. 

Limitations: There are limited first hand reports of this event and thus cognitive processes have to be inferred with a degree of caution.

 Practical implications: The findings give a preliminary validation of the DSA model for further use in training and in investigation of well control events. Recommendations based on the findings are offered for assisting driller SA and consequently, for supporting safe and efficient drilling operations. There is also the opportunity to adapt the DSA model and apply the recommendations from the analysis to similar monitoring positions, where SA is essential, within the process industries.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)87-100
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries
Early online date5 Sept 2015
Publication statusPublished - Nov 2015

Bibliographical note

This article is based on a doctoral research project of the first author which is sponsored by an international drilling rig operator. The views presented are those of the authors and should not be taken to represent the position or policy of the sponsor. The authors wish to thank the industrial supervisor and drilling experts for their contribution.


  • accident analysis
  • Deepwater Horizon
  • offshore drill crew
  • process safety
  • situation awareness


Dive into the research topics of '"Everything was fine"*: an analysis of the drill crew's situation awareness on Deepwater Horizon'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this