Improving Upstream Safety With Increased Training

Oil & Gas IQ

For the second consecutive year, there were no fatalities among employees working offshore, according to Health and Safety Executive (HSE) statistics.

The figures suggest that upstream safety is improving, at least in the UK. The HSE's report shows that there was a fall in major injuries also, with 30 reported in the 2008/9 period, down by 14 compared to 2007/8.

Now, the combined fatal and major injury rate stands at 106 per 100,000 workers, compared to 156 last year and 146 in the 2006/7 period, again showing the progress that has been made in upstream safety.

According to the HSE, the highest number of injuries occurred during maintenance and construction work. In addition, the incidence of major and significant hydrocarbon releases also dropped markedly, from 74 in 2007/8 to 61 in 2008/9, the figures showed.

'Stark Reminder'

"Though these figures suggest the sector is getting safer, with both the combined fatal and major injury rate and major hydrocarbon releases at their lowest since HSE began regulating the industry, they cannot be taken in isolation," said Steve Walker, head of offshore at the HSE.

He referred to the tragic loss of 17 workers in two separate air transport and maritime incidents—areas that are not regulated by the body—on April 1, 2009, saying they were "stark reminder of the hazards of working offshore and the need to ensure they are carefully managed."

Furthermore, reports from Step Change in Safety, set up by oil and gas industry trade associations in 1997, show that there have two fatalities in the last couple of months.

In one incident, a member if the crew was stuck by the relief assembly during a pressure test and in another a welder suffered fatal injuries to his abdomen and chest when a grinding wheel shattered.

MIST Standard for Upstream Safety

It is occurrences like these that are a reminder for the industry of the importance of its efforts as it continues to work hard on improving upstream safety, both in terms of process and behavioural management.

The latest research shows that more than 4,000 offshore workers have completed the new Step Change in Safety Minimum Industry Safety Training (MIST) Standard since its introduction in April 2009. This makes it one of the organisation's most successful initiatives.

A recent review of the training standard found that most workers who completed the programme felt it was beneficial for improving upstream safety and directly related to their offshore work.

The idea was to create a universal standard so that all employees working on an installation on the UK continental shelf have the sane starting level of upstream safety understanding and awareness. This means that there is no need for workers to undergo similar training every time they visit a different installation.

Existing workers can complete a computer-based tuition which identifies gaps in their previous training and are required to do a refresher course every four years, while new starters in the industry have to attend a two-day course. The training covers nine basic upstream safety issues, including risk assessment and permit to work, mechanical lifting and platform integrity

Alan Chesterman, leader of the Step Change in Safety competence work group, which created the standards, said it was encouraging that so many workers had already completed the course, but acknowledged that there was still more to be done.

"There are still a number of challenges we need to overcome. Adopting common standards and engaging the essential support to apply them uniformly across industry is not an easy task and the next few months will see an increased engagement with those companies that are not yet using the MIST standard," he added.

Process Safety

From a process point of view, businesses within the oil and gas industry are constantly looking to update technology to improve upstream safety.

In October, GE Oil and Gas opened a new Subsea Monitoring and Remote Technology Center, or SmartCenter, in Nailsea near Bristol in the UK. This is a remote-access date hub connected to subsea field control and instrumentation facilities around the world, offering assistance and services at every stage of development.

Ove Magne Kallestad, vice-president of subsea technology and operations at GE's long-standing partner StatoilHydro, who officially opened the centre, said the facility would "help shape the future of the industry [by] helping maintain world-class standards in environmental, health and safety management."