SOME countries are perceived as better than others when it comes to driving forward HS & E standards, and Norway is an outstanding example in this regard.
In the North Sea, there have lately been a number of unfortunate drilling-related incidents that have made the safety authorities in both the UK and Norway sit up and take action.
That said, both camps have attempted to put their respective houses in order – at company, association, industry and national authority level – to promote safety.
That 2008 marks the 20th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster of July 6, 1988, rams home the need to get attitudes to HS & E right.
It is not the purpose of this article to name and shame individual companies.
Rather, it is to highlight key issues – and that primarily comes down to people – and to describe some of the initiatives implemented in a bid to ensure that such accidents never happen again.
However, an incident on the Norwegian Continental Shelf in 2007 prompted the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority to express “grave” concern that the deficiencies leading to that event were similar to those associated with two earlier incidents, one in 2002, the other in 2005.
The PSA said in a statement: “The underlying causes were deficiencies in the design of the drill floor, construction of the lifting collar, operating instructions, follow-up of safety notices, competence, planning and implementation, deficient management and breach of procedure.”
Norway’s PSA is tough, but so, too, is the UK’s Health & Safety Executive, led by Ian Whewell, or it seems to be – witness the so-called KP2 and KP3 programmes.
The UK HSE’s Offshore Division (OSD) originally initiated Key Programme 2 (KP2) in 2003 in response to “unacceptable accident statistics from deck and drilling operations” offshore.
A programme review in 2005 resulted in closer focus on the management of lifting operations offshore within these two areas of activity, lifting operations having been seen to contribute significantly to fatalities and major injuries. This revised programme, known as KP2 Phase 2, ran from December, 2005, until March, 2007. Its targets were zero fatalities and a 20% reduction, from 2001-02 statistics, of incidents and injuries related to deck and drilling operations.
If that wasn’t enough, in September, 2003, the HSE published its long-awaited KP3 asset integrity report that was so critical of the state of much UK North Sea production infrastructure.
However, while platform operators were censured, owners of MODUs (mobile offshore drilling units) – both jack-ups and semi-submersibles – came out “quite well” in the KP3 report, according to Ian Aitcheson of the UK offshore industry’s long-running Step Change safety initiative.
Highlighting the nomadic nature of drilling, Aitcheson said: “It stands to reason with a MODU, if it isn’t maintained well it isn’t going to sell itself.”
In other words, a well-kept rig will get work, but a scruffy, down-at-heel unit might find itself at or near the tail end of the queue for contracts, even in a buoyant market.
Aitcheson, who is on secondment from Aker Kvaerner and is a safety support team leader for Step Change, is well qualified to comment as he is an experienced offshore installation manager, HS & E manager and has recently run an offshore decommissioning project.
He is complimentary of the drilling fraternity, and particularly of the efforts made by IADC to address issues and carry the messages around the globe.
“I think IADC are very proactive … they share their safety alerts with us, and vice versa,” he said.
“We have a good working engagement with them, also the Well Services Contractors Association. Indeed, WSCA are about to publish, through Step Change, a guidance document on well services safety. This stems from a well-service vessel offshore fatality incident in February, 2006, when a (wirelining) tool string parted and killed a guy.”
Basically, the new guidance notes cover wireline safety and are as applicable to a well intervention monohull as a MODU.
Aitcheson said, too, that a significant fatality report was published in 2003 and that this contained a suite of 11 case studies, of which many were drilling-related.
“This resulted in a significant amount of action, including work groups being formed and best-practice guides prepared.”
Among the guidance to emerge was the “Personal responsibility for safety” note.
“This is very much built around behaviour of the individual,” said Aitcheson.
“There are nine elements … areas such as leadership and personal accountability, and this is something that the IADC has been using well.
“It has worked hard with its member companies to get them to impress on their people that we all have a personal responsibility when it comes to safety, including exercising the right to intervene if we see someone doing something that could result in an incident.”
Aitcheson also praised a brave attempt to highlight drilling-related dangers when a young North Sea roughneck, still relatively new to the industry, had a hand crushed in a drill-floor accident. Martin’s Story was made by GlobalSantaFe and offered to the industry via Step Change. In it, Martin tells his story and highlights the permanent effect the accident has had on his life, including family, friends and work colleagues.
It highlights how many of the things we all take for granted, such as dressing and using cutlery, will now be more difficult for this former soldier, and is curiously reflective of what Shell was trying to do 15 years or so ago in the North Sea as it sought safety consciousness in the workplace and at home.
Aitcheson said the Step Change leadership team was already solidly supported by IADC, with three senior North Sea figures on board – Steve Rae of Noble; Roger Hudson of KCA Deutag, and Chris Ness of newly merged Transocean/GlobalSantaFe. He added that the team was to be significantly expanded.
Aitcheson added: “A lot of companies we’re dealing with have global remits and so we try to help everybody. More and more, globalisation is becoming a factor that has to be taken account of. This includes standardisation of HS & E standards and practice, wherever possible, and drilling is an obvious area.”
In an odd sort of a way, this brings us back to where this piece started – the right that we all claim to be safe and to be able to get a good night’s sleep wherever we may work. And that suggests a cohesive global approach.