Safety regulators have put Petrofac on notice after it found poor assessments left offshore workers on the Kittiwake platform at risk of exposure to hazardous fumes.
Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors issued an improvement notice to the oilfield services giant for failing to suitably risk assess work carried out on the North Sea platform.
In particular it took issue with guidance that failed to require ventilation of welding fumes – “a known human carcinogen” capable of causing cancer.
Located around 100 miles off Aberdeen, Petrofac (LON:PFC) is the duty holder for Kittiwake on behalf of its owner, EnQuest.
The HSE found that a live work permit for fabrications and a Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH) assessment for welding (KIT98) – a document which evaluates risks from hazardous substances – “conflicted one another”.
This meant the work permit required the use of local exhaust ventilation (LEV) and respiratory protective equipment (RPE) when welding, whereas KIT98 “only highlighted the wearing of RPE when LEV was not present.”
There is no indication workers were exposed to unventilated fumes in practice.
The company said it took the findings “extremely seriously” and made immediate changes, alongside a third-party review of its processes.
A safety alert from HSE in 2019 warned of evidence that exposure to any welding fume – including from mild steel – can cause lung cancer, as well as limited evidence linking fumes to kidney cancer. At that time, the regulator indicated it would be stepping up its expectations of enforcement around ventilation when welding.
In Petrofac’s case, it found that KIT98 failed to include considerations for the type of welding, the hazardous properties of substances involved with this type of work, amounts used, duration and information on potential health effects.
The assessment used outdated legislation for hazard classification, did not identify any relevant workplace exposure limits and did not set out suitable measures to control welding fumes, HSE added.
Inspectors said a further six risk assessments were reviewed as part of the inspection, each of which were found not to adequately assess the risks and potential for hazardous exposure to employees.
A spokewoman for Petrofac said: “The health and safety of our people is of paramount importance to Petrofac and we take any potential risk to this extremely seriously.
“We fully accepted the HSE’s recommendations and made immediate changes to our Control of Substances Hazardous to Health processes and procedures. We have also commissioned a holistic review of these by an external third party to ensure our long-term improvement plan is robust and comprehensive.”
Petrofac has until 1 March to improve these assessments.
20 years of service for Petrofac on Kittiwake
Kittiwake is a fixed steel platform installed in 1990, which lies around 100 miles off Aberdeen.
Petrofac has been duty holder on Kittiwake since 2003, serving owner EnQuest since 2014 and Centrica prior to that. In 2022 it was awarded a three-year renewal for the asset, taking its service there beyond the two-decade mark.
The field itself is no longer on production and had its drilling facilities decommissioned in 2009. However the platform continues to operate as a production hub for several tie-back fields comprising the Greater Kittiwake Area.
The living quarters have a maximum personnel on board of 79, according to EnQuest.