On July 6, 1988, an explosion and resulting fire destroyed Piper Alpha, killing 167 people. That was 29 years ago, but the legacy from Piper Alpha lives on today. Many lessons have been learned, however, the real dangers of oil and gas offshore operations are still very real. The industry needs to assure colleagues, friends and families that safety and the environment are still its number one focus.
In a recent article, Bill Robb said: “Many accidents are caused by experienced, knowledgeable and well-meaning people. They may have a feeling that something is not quite right but go ahead anyway”. The reasoning was that fear is a major cause of accidents and incidents. It’s human nature to be afraid of looking stupid, being seen as lazy or incompetent, letting people down or upsetting colleagues.
At first, I wasn’t convinced about this, but then I looked at project management competency and found that conflict management is a real issue. The problem is conflict management is a hard skill to learn, as it requires us to be confident, secure, emotionally stable, in control, clear on arguments, have the right levels of knowledge but also have an ability to back down, show humility, compromise and continue to learn.
Recently, we booked a family holiday to Spain. Before travelling, we went to bed late and rose early to get to Glasgow airport in good time. On arriving at Malaga airport, we had a transfer service for the family and a rental car booked. From a safety perspective, we agreed to take some of the bags and lock them in the boot of the car to make the walk for the ladies and children to the transfer point easier.
It was getting late, we had no food for the villa and the children were getting hungry. We needed to stop for groceries and as we passed the exclusive Bel-Air district we came across a very good Lidl supermarket. My son parked up next to the trolley stand, although I did think maybe we should park a bit closer. We checked the car was locked, but 10 minutes later we came out to find the car had been broken into and our luggage stolen. The first feeling was one of embarrassment. How could this happen when I am experienced and knowledgeable traveller? We needed to look at the key issues: we were tired after a long day travelling; we were unfamiliar with the area, although the affluent feeling of it gave us a sense of safety, we were worried about how we would be greeted if we did not arrive at the villa with groceries.
If we had some reference material to help us make the right decisions at the time, we may have seen the right risks and changed our course of action. Safety is in every part of our lives and we can learn from one area to another to help maintain our focus on keeping us safe.
It’s been a bumpy ride for the industry over the last few years. From June 2012 the oil price went above $100/barrel and stayed there for 27 months. In the following 18 months, it crashed to a low of $28.9/barrel (a 75% drop) which had a profound effect on the industry. Even today it is only $46/barrel.
Security of employment and cost-cutting are now big issues. With fewer people and long working hours, could this build on the three components of my incident? A fear of failure aggravated by tiredness, unfamiliar ground and stress. One solution is to make sure we have the right knowledge base and reference material to support everyone in the oil and gas sector.
Encompassing the Future: Offshore Oil and Gas Operations, a major digital resource developed for the oil and gas industry, pulls together 40 years of inter-disciplinary knowledge and experience in environmental, health and safety and performance management. It’s a valuable electronic resource that has engaged government, universities and over 50 authors to create a HSE respository not just about the past, not just about the present, but about how we can look forward and have a safe industry for many years to come.
This e-resource is a profound knowledge base and contains three volumes, 10 sections and 57 chapters with research from both academic and industry professionals accumulating in over one million words of valuable text that can be accessed electronically. It will be launched on August 3, 2017, at the Kings College Centre in Aberdeen University. It has been a hard journey getting to this stage but I’m extremely proud to have been a part of it and I urge everyone to attend the launch and subsequent forum to learn how to make the best use of the resource to prevent incidents, both small and major.
Chris has 31 years experience in the upstream oil and gas sector mainly in the UKCS with several high level executive roles including vice chairman of OCA and board director of Oil & Gas UK. Most recently, Chris was Technical Director for Centrica and Western Europe CEO for MOL group. Chris holds several fellowships with major institutions and is passionate about developing young professionals, technology and HSE performance.