HSE takes oil and gas operators to task over hydrocarbon releases

Piper Alpha
HSE's boss wrote to operators on the 30th anniversary of Piper Alpha.

In a letter to coincide with the approaching 30th anniversary of Piper Alpha, Health and Safety Executive (HSE) boss Chris Flint has taken oil and gas operators to task over continued hydrocarbon releases, saying that the industry needs to “do more” to tackle the problem.

Mr Flint, director of HSE’s energy division, said that although strides are being made, the continued hydrocarbon leaks represent failure “across the board”.

Mr Flint said: “Every HCR is a safety threat, as it represents a failure in an operator’s management of its risks. I recognise the steps the industry has taken to reduce the overall number of HCRs, however HCRs 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.”

Mr Flint went on to ask operators to take a new approach and “look critically ” at their operations and learn from incidents both onshore and offshore.

Proposing that operators carry out a safety review, Mr Flint also suggested a comprehensive audit of oil and gas producers safety managements standards as a road to improvement.

He said: “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.”

“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.

Mick Cash, RMT Union general secretary, said: “We welcome this intervention by HSE as it comes at a time when the pressure on the off shore workforce is immense in terms of cuts, increased workload and increased working hours.

“We have come close on a few occasions and it’s often been luck as opposed to good management that a disaster was avoided. It is appropriate that HSE should issue a statement in the terms they have as it will help to focus minds and remind everyone they must remain vigilant.”