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Energy.gb.com: SAFETY: ARE WE DOING ENOUGH?

As We mark the 10th anniversary of the launch of the UK oil &gas industry’s Step Change in Safety initiative, I feel it is timely to reflect on the past 10 years and ask ourselves some difficult and searching questions.

What have we actually achieved? What challenges have we overcome, what challenges lie ahead? Are we taking our safety responsibility seriously enough or are we merely hiding behind glib cliches about safety being our number-one priority?

Let’s start with the facts. The industry’s safety record has improved significantly over the course of the last decade.

The combined fatal and major-injury rate has reduced by 57% and the total number of injuries has fallen 45%, from 368 in 1997 to 205 in 2007, despite a 22% rise in offshore population. In terms of the non-fatal injury rate, the offshore sector compares favourably with agriculture, transport, construction and other extractive sectors.

Unquestionably, the Step Change in Safety initiative has been at the heart of this positive development. Unparalleled elsewhere in the world, Step Change is a unique collaborative effort which has succeeded in uniting the UK oil &gas industry at all levels on the essential issue of safety in the workplace.

Having said that, lost-time statistics alone do not tell the full story. In this industry, the management of process safety is equally important. While the number of both major and significant hydrocarbon releases has halved over the last 10 years, recent figures are less encouraging and asset integrity remains a key pinch point.

There is a concern that we might not be giving enough attention to the management of process safety measures intended to prevent the risk of major accidents such as fires and explosions.

We all know that the health and safety of people on an installation and the sustainability of UK energy supplies are heavily dependent on good asset integrity. But what exactly has industry done to ensure the safety, reliability and sustainability of its assets?

In 2004, in support of asset integrity inspections undertaken by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the Installation Integrity Working Group (IIWG) was established. Its aim was to focus industry efforts not just on improving asset integrity, but to promote a sustainable set of key performance indicators for the long-term future of the industry. This work group helped develop and collate a collection of good-practice techniques and guidelines aimed to assist operators in their efforts to maintain and enhance asset integrity.

There is no doubt that it has done an excellent job in producing toolkits, guidelines and safety briefs, yet the test is whether these are being properly and universally adopted.

To improve leadership in this area, the Step Change Asset Integrity Workgroup was formed earlier this year. This team is now focusing on education and training in asset integrity management, more effective sharing of HSE and industry good practices and the creation of improved leading indicators to measure asset integrity performance.

The emphasis in 2007-08 is on more effective use of existing material rather than on developing anything new. With this in mind, we plan to provide a one-day interactive workshop for managing directors to ensure a good understanding of safety cases, verification of safety-critical elements, associated performance standards and the practical application of Step Change toolkits and guidelines. In addition, the current Step Change website will be adapted to enable wider sharing of HSE and industry good practices and lessons learned. This will require commitment from companies to implement internal learning and sharing protocols so as to make best use of this facility. These are only a few examples of the various industry-level initiatives, not to forget the investment and efforts of individual companies.

So I think we certainly have the knowledge, mechanisms and systems in place to ensure our industry’s assets are maintained in order to be safe, reliable and efficient. However, it is now up to each individual company to achieve effective implementation, show their commitment and ensure the safety of our offshore workforce.

It is time for all of us to ask ourselves the difficult question: are we doing enough in practice and on a daily basis to demonstrate and deliver on that commitment? Only when we can answer that question in the affirmative will we truly be on the way to achieving our overarching goal to make the UKCS the safest place in the worldwide oil &gas industry.

Chris Allen is HSSE director at Oil &Gas UK
12:53 – 05 November 2007 

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