We start with an explosion that took the lives of one hundred and sixty seven offshore workers in 1988. Most of the workers died due to breathing in the toxic fumes produced by the initial explosion. Although the cause of the explosion could have been due to mechanical failures, it was most likely due to a lack of safety management. The workers had not been properly trained, the evacuation procedure was not practiced properly, and there was a poor assessment of potential hazards. An example was the risk of high pressure gas fire that could compromise structural integrity, and cause evacuation problems.
In more recent history, 2005 to be precise, we go to Buncefield, England where the focus was to keep the process operating and keep production constant. Due to this line of thought and practice, a gage that was sticking and a shutoff switch that had become inoperable caused a vapor cloud to ignite, causing a massive explosion and fire. A similar incident occurred in Texas where the cause was due to cost cutting, production pressure, and an impaired safety process. There was also a reliance on personal injury as a safety indicator which skewed the results so that the safety of the entire process was overlooked. The overall problem was that there was no overall safety goal which would lead to maximizing safety in all its manifestation rather than just focusing on individuals. This led to a practice of asking not only what the previous events have taught us, but also what will we do with that information.
Now that we know some of the problems, we can focus on improving the safety features, safety practices, and the way we teach safety. We must first start adapting. As technology advances so must the processes and the safety that applies to it. One of the major concerns the gas and oil sectors are facing is the growing base of ageing assets. Many installations are operating beyond their design life. Now that drilling is being conducted in deeper waters and more hostile environments the workforce has changed. Besides there being an increase in smaller operations, there has also been an increase in the diversity of the workforce. Workforces are multi-cultural and from different parts of the world. The way we operate has also changed. Now there is a greater focus on safety and the protection of the environment. There is a lower tolerance for failure; failure being accidents, spill, explosions, and so on.
We now have the problem of a lack of communication regarding the safety and practices for those who work on an oil rig. What do we do to solve this problem? After the Piper Alpha incident a set of regulations was created which prevails today and has helped to keep many workers safe. These were only regulations and needed a regulatory authority or in this case, the Offshore Safety Division of the HSE. In 2001 Key Programme One was launched. It centered on reducing offshore hydrocarbon leaks. At the time there were too many leaks occurring and it needed to be addressed. Then came Key Programme Two in 2003, which dealt with deck lifting and drilling operations. It was in response to eight fatalities, in a three year period, which had occurred due to drilling operations. With the introduction of Key Programme one and two there have be zero deaths in the UK sector since 2004.
Aside from writing new policies we also need to develop new methods to ensure the safety of any and every offshore worker, but how…