Industry yet to ‘crack the major fatalities problem’ offshore, expert says

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A safety expert has lamented the industry’s inability to “crack” the issue of deaths offshore.

Chris Hawkes, safety director at the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP), said: “Companies have matured in their thinking, but it’s 2018 we really should’ve cracked this by now.”

Mr Hawkes was discussing the recent IOGP safety report which announced a 36% drop in fatal accidents offshore, yet also found a slight increase in incidents resulting in fatalities for 2017.

He said: “I’m encouraged and pleased with the fact that fatality figures are down but we still haven’t managed to crack this as an industry. We’re only one helicopter accident away from being in the same situation we were before. We’ve still got a lot to do.

“We’re working on fatality elimination and really have to look at opportunities to improve safety and rules in the upstream sector.”

“I don’t think we can point to any one action but there’s a better understanding of fatalities and why they happen. We have much more of an understanding of what has the real potential to kill people.”

Upon the release of the report, IOGP director Gordon Ballard said the findings were encouraging, but that “even a single death is one too many”.

Mr Hawkes was frustrated that people continue to die in similar ways.

He said: “The frustrating thing is that it’s the same old ways such as confined space entry, which accounted for nearly 10% of our members’ fatalities in 2017, and not due to any innovative way of doing things”.

The industry sees on average one major offshore fatality every 14 months.

He said: “I don’t think we’ve cracked the major fatalities problem. In process safety, the things that lead to fatal incidents are different to the things that lead to environmental issues. Less than 20% [of fatal accidents] are during normal operations, most are during maintenance or some other intervention.”

Asked where industry has improved, Mr Hawkes said: “It’s a number of things” – better risk assessments, improvements in safety procedures, ensuring safety from contractors, and above all truly believing safety is the No.1 priority.”

Mr Hawkes added that he was most encouraged by “the focus and energy that the industry is putting into safety and the speed of what we’ve done. It’s not one specific thing but a way of thinking differently about safety and putting absolute focus on safe operations.”

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