UK HSE: Oil firms must step up safety game after leaks leave offshore rigs ‘perilously close to disaster’

Aerial photographs of BP Clair Ridge oil spill, taken on 2nd October 2016 (Source: Maritime and Coastguard Agency)

UK’s offshore safety regulator has sent a letter to offshore oil operators urging them to step up their game when it comes to preventing accidental oil and gas leaks. The letter was sent to the operators ahead of the upcoming 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster.

“Despite recent strides being made in reducing the number of hydrocarbon releases (HCRs), they continue to occur, and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is concerned that the industry needs to do more to tackle them,“ the UK HSE said.

Chris Flint, HSE’s Director of Energy Division has called for the operators to look critically at their own operations, and to reflect on the learning from incidents across the process industries, both onshore and offshore, to identify where improvements can be made.

“Experience from our investigations is that HCRs typically happen because there have been failings across the board. Poor plant condition and breaches of procedures are often immediate causes, but beneath that, we often find a lack of leadership, a poor safety culture, and evidence that weaknesses have existed for some time, but haven’t been picked up through audit, assurance and review and then dealt with.”

Perilously close to disaster

Flint said that despite the reduced number of hydrocarbon releases, they remain a concern, “particularly major HCRs because of their greater potential to lead to fires, explosions and multiple losses of life. There have been several such releases in recent years that have come perilously close to disaster.”

HSE has asked operators to carry out a review of their ‘process safety leadership’, and ‘assurance, audit and review’ elements of their safety management systems against a recognized process safety management standard.

If you get the safety culture right, staff will be much more likely to spot hazards

“If you get the safety culture right, staff will be much more likely to spot hazards, challenge when standards aren’t right, and be engaged in improvement,” explained Chris. “And if you have an effective system of monitoring and audit in place, leadership will know which systems need fixing, and can target their efforts to prevent the incidents occurring in the first place.”

The letter requires operators to respond to HSE by 20 July 2018 with a summary of their improvement activities and plan arising from their self-assessment. The HSE has also committed to feeding back significant findings from the exercise to the industry later in the year.

No room for complacency

Responding to the HSE letter Oil & Gas UK’s chief executive, Deirdre Michie said: “As the HSE recognizes in the letter sent to our members, our industry has delivered ‘a substantial and welcome downward trend in the total number of HCRs since 2005’. However, we all know there is never room for complacency.

We understand why the HSE wants to highlight areas where industry can further improve and we continue to work closely with them to reduce hydrocarbon releases.

The industry is committed to ensuring lessons are learned and good practice is shared, and look forward to using the results of this initiative to progress this important work.”

Offshore Energy Today Staff

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