OPINION: It’s time to take a lead in dropped objects prevention

Mike Rice
Mike Rice
Opinion by Mike RiceCommercial Director, Dropsafe

Ensuring the highest possible safety standards has always been a priority for Oil and Gas, particularly in drilling operations. But now, more than ever, the industry is being reminded of the importance of mitigating Dropped Object risks as stacked rigs are brought out of retirement and returned to operations.

Years of low oil prices, including the fall of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil prices to 30.12 USD per barrel in 2016, meant that a significant number of rigs were out of action. Now with the price of oil back to around $60 a barrel and natural gas projected to provide 45% of power generation by 2040, drilling rigs are coming out of storage to meet the demand of the market.

This is very promising, but a smooth transition back into operations may yet be put in jeopardy by damage sustained during time spent out of action. Whilst stacked rigs hypothetically see regular maintenance, in reality, this is often not the case due to the economic strain experienced by contractors. Reactivated rigs have often suffered damage from harsh weather, rust, and corrosion, which compromises their structural integrity. These factors may contribute to a substantial risk of Dropped Object incidents, posing a threat to the safety of engineers and the integrity of equipment.

Dropped Objects are one of the most frequent incidents reported on and offshore. The industry body DROPS cites Dropped Objects as a top 10 cause of injury and fatality in Oil and Gas operations. This is reflected in a report from a major Oil and Gas company which stated that 68% of its High Potential Incidents (HiPos) were caused by Dropped Objects. This issue poses a significant threat to both the safety of personnel and to the legal, financial and reputational standing of energy companies.

Despite this significant risk, there is still a lack of industry wide standards and regulation on best practice mitigation approaches, which has driven the adoption of make-shift solutions. For example, ‘sling’ solutions have commonly been deployed to tackle the Dropped Object risk posed by lights and other fittings – usually involving a cable tethered to a structure and attached to the fixture. However, this solution would unlikely prevent the fixture from dropping if the mounting bracket came loose, for instance.

For asset owners and site managers looking to maintain control over their health and safety (H&S) budgets, this creates an additional risk, since, the longer these make-shift approaches are taken, the more likely it is that blanket regulations are imposed on the sector. Now more than ever, the Oil and Gas industry needs to demonstrate a capacity to self-regulate on mitigating dropped object risks. This way, project managers can take control of tailoring safety solutions to individual rigs, rather than allowing external regulations to limit the cost-efficiency of implementation and effectiveness of robust technological risk mitigation solutions.

Some firms are already showing this proactivity in self-regulation, such as one major company which recently shut down fleet-wide operations to provide Dropped Object risk mitigation best practice training to all staff and engineers. The signs are that Oil and Gas majors and drilling contractors are not only becoming increasingly aware of the dangers of Dropped Objects but are starting to take fleet-wide action to protect their personnel and equipment. Adoption of secondary securing nets, retro-fit barriers on guard railing, and pouches or tethering for handheld objects is starting to become standard practice on many rigs and drill ships.

By taking the problem of dropped object risk mitigation seriously and implementing robust solutions, project managers can ensure the highest safety standards at this critical moment. It is crucial, as the industry returns to work, for Oil and Gas operators to avoid reputational, safety and financial damage by placing the issue of dropped objects high on the list.

Aside from avoiding serious damage, adopting robust solutions to dropped object risks can offer individual Oil and Gas players a competitive advantage by setting a strong health and safety benchmark. Many operators are factoring in the need for high safety standards when deciding to award contracts as it can have a direct impact on the risk of downtime. The adoption of high standards and technical safety solutions across the board could ultimately enable drilling contractors and other players to cultivate a reputation as a premium service offering and ultimately benefit from more sustainable day rates.

We have seen big industry players start to adopt robust technological solutions to prioritize the training of their staff in dropped object risk mitigation best working practices. However, it is vital for Oil and Gas to maintain momentum in tackling the challenge of dropped object risks and implementing superior safety solutions at a crucial time for the industry.

By tackling the issue of Dropped Object risks head on, O&G operators have the opportunity to not only set themselves apart as offering a high level of safety standards and mitigate the potential injury to personnel and costly damage to equipment and reputation, but also to ensure the success of the industry as it returns to work. The question isn’t so much how Oil and Gas firms can afford to invest in taking a lead in Dropped Objects prevention, it’s whether they can afford not to.