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UpstreamOnline: Shell ordered to step up safety

UK watchdog issues notice to supermajor over rusting stairwells

By Upstream staff

The UK’s offshore watchdog has served a safety notice on Shell after discovering serious corrosion problems on stairwells in the Brent Bravo utility leg in the UK North Sea, many of which had been first identified in an internal inspection report six months earlier.

The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) told Upstream that three inspectors had visited the platform last week on a three-day routine inspection, but were unable to gain access to the leg.

An improvement notice has since been served on Shell giving them three months to sort out the problems.

However, Upstream has obtained a damning internal inspection report on the stairwell carried out by Aberdeen-based MB Inspection in February this year, which shows extensive corrosion and several holes found to be “weeping”.

The report revealed: “A substantial build up of corrosion on the inside of the tubular sections and when tapped with an inspection hammer you can hear movement of material inside approximately 50% of the tubular sections.”

Sources indicated that HSE inspectors were completely unaware of the corrosion problems until arriving on the much-troubled platform last week.

Work in the utility leg has been suspended.

The access elevator in the leg has also been out of action for more than six months.

A Shell spokesman said the company had taken the precaution of suspending routine testing operations and upgrade work in the leg.

“We have now completed a closer visual inspection and done a wider review of the whole structure,” he said.

“So the feeling is we are now in a better position to carry out the repairs. The remedial work has already started on the stairwells and should be finished within a couple of weeks,” he added.

The HSE’s director of hazardous installations Kevin Myers, and the head of the Offshore Division Ian Whewell held meetings with the unions OILC and Amicus, Shell and other stakeholders in Aberdeen this week to discuss current issues resulting from the Brent Bravo prosecution and the fatal accident inquiry determination into the two deaths on the installation in 2003.

OILC general secretary Jake Molloy described the meeting as “useful and constructive with a follow-up meeting planned once the HSE have considered the points made”.

“What this stairwell report shows is that despite assurances about improvements in safety management performance there are still serious shortcomings in the system.

“Once again the HSE and offshore safety representatives have been kept in the dark and were unaware of the February MB Inspection report,” he claimed. “This is a flaw in the present system identified in the Shell reports of 1999 and 2003, released by former group auditor Bill Campbell, which needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.

“Because Shell needed the oil rundown lines done, they allowed the workforce to use the staircase for six months in a poor condition until members of staff identified movement in the stairwells.

“This once again suggests prioritising production before safety and illustrates how the workforce and HSE are kept in the dark,” he added.

An HSE spokesman said: “HSE sees the unions as key stakeholders in the offshore system and believe they have a major constructive role in supporting the industry in meeting its own target to be the safest sector in the world by 2010.

“The meetings have been constructive and will help the HSE in further developing its intervention strategy offshore,” the spokesman added.

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