The History of Asset Integrity Management in the UK

Oil & Gas IQ

On July 6th 1988, the Piper Alpha North Sea oil platform suffered a massive leakage of gas condensate. This set off a chain of events that changed the face of health and safety as well as asset integrity management in the UK oil and gas industry.

The leaked gas ignited, causing an explosion which led to large oil fires. The heat from these ruptured the riser of a gas pipeline from another installation, producing a further massive explosion and fireball that engulfed the platform.

It took just 22 minutes for this disaster of enormous scale to unfold. The tragedy killed 167 people. Only 62 workers survived.

This article, the first of a three-part series on health and safety and asset integrity management, looks at how the events of July 6th 1988 changed the way the industry operated.

Asset Integrity Management Assessment

The Piper Alpha North Sea disaster led to energy companies conducting immediate and wide-ranging assessments of their installations and asset integrity management systems.

Every offshore operator reviewed its strategies and invested £1 billion in safety measures, both from a hardware and industry culture point of view.

These safety measures included stepping up to asset integrity management in the way of improvements to "permit to work" management systems, relocation of some pipeline emergency shutdown valves, installation of sub-sea pipeline isolations and mitigation of smoke hazards.

From a cultural aspect, operators updated evacuation and escape systems and introduced formal safety assessments.

Public Inquiry

The government also ordered a public inquiry into the disaster, which was chaired by Lord Cullen and undertaken in two parts. The first aimed to establish the causes of the disaster and the second recommended changes to the safety regime, including asset integrity management.

It took two years for the public inquiry to be completed, beginning in November 1988 with the final report published in November 1990.

The report included 106 directions, which were all accepted by the industry. Many of these were actually recommended as a result of evidence provided by operators. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) was to oversee 57 of these, while the operators were responsible for 40. A further eight were allocated to the industry as a whole and the remaining recommendation was for the Standby Ship Owners Association.

New Regulations

As a result of the report, the Offshore Installations Safety Case Regulations came into force in 1992 and by the following year, a safety case for every installation had been submitted to the HSE. By November 1995, each of these had been accepted by the HSE.

The law dictates that owners and operators of all fixed and mobile installation in UK waters must put forward a safety case to the HSE. This must demonstrate that the company has asset integrity management systems in place, has identified risks and has reduced them as much as is practically possible and has made provisions for safe evacuation and rescue.

Operators must also show that they have introduced management controls and provided a temporary safe refuge on the installation.

The HSE's Offshore Safety Division employs a team of inspectors who are responsible for enforcing the regulations and regularly visit offshore installations to check up on health and safety and asset integrity management procedures.

10-year Strategy

In 2000, the British government unveiled a 10-year strategy for improving safety in the oil and gas industry. This included targets for the sector such as a 10 percent reduction in the rate of fatalities and major injuries.

Asset integrity management is one of three key elements that make up the strategy, whose overarching vision is to live up to the statement: "In 2010, the UK is the safest place to work in the worldwide oil and gas industry."

The next instalment will look in more detail at the government's 10-year strategy for improving safety and asset integrity management. Click here to read part two.