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Baseefa Ltd

Refrigerated containers: a vital link in the offshore safety chain

18 August 2014

Greg Spence, managing director of Reftrade UK explains the importance of refrigerated containers and controlled units in the offshore environment and how technological advancements can deliver the highest standards of food and beverage safety.

A joint report by the International Petroleum Industry Environmental Conservation Association (IPIECA) and International Association of Oil & Gas Producers (OGP) stated, ‘Food and water safety is of paramount importance to the effective functioning of the oil and gas industry. All sectors of the industry, from frontier exploration and production locations to retail operations, are potentially at risk.’

According to a report in the Occupational Medicine Journal titled: Offshore Industry: Management of Health Hazards in the Upstream Petroleum Industry, health risks on offshore oil and gas installations have changed little over three decades, with the main concerns relating to musculoskeletal disorders and stress.

However, the report also goes on to outline food-poisoning outbreaks as typical manifestations of biological hazards in the offshore workplace, where galley space can be limited and cold storage facilities at a premium. Airborne diseases can spread rapidly through ventilation systems on offshore installations because accommodation is pressurised and living space is usually at a premium.

This exemplifies the need for state-of-the-art refrigerated containers and temperature controlled units offshore, which often need to be bespoke builds due to space constraints. 

Carriage of food offshore is also a complex issue. Standards for the transportation and storage of food, specifically in the oil and gas industry, are different the world over. Although transportation and storage of food offshore in the North Sea sector is generally seen as adequate it does vary somewhat from the onshore standards, and the regulations and therefore standards can be unclear.

According to a 2011 fact sheet prepared by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) titled,Offshore Food Essentials, which seeks to provide guidance to offshore duty holders (owners, operators and contractors) to aid compliance with the food safety element of the Offshore Installations and Pipeline Works Regulations 1995, the Offshore Installations and Wells Regulations 1996 (DCR) and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations 2002 (COSHH), to protect workers’ health, delivery temperature standards for frozen goods should be below -12 ºC and preferably below -18 ºC. Chilled goods should be below 5 ºC.

It then goes on to say that delivery in refrigerated containers is ‘preferred’. Further to this, the guidance states that procedures should be in place to ‘monitor and record the temperatures of delivered, prepared and stored food.’

This is where the primary issue regarding food transportation arises, as there is no standard rule or law governing the transit of food offshore. It is, however, clear that all food transported offshore should be refrigerated to ensure freshness and to reduce the risk of food poisoning and food-borne diseases. If food deliveries are incorrectly monitored and do not comply with the HSE’s guideline temperatures, then food would have to be discarded adding to waste and the operator’s costs.

Figures released in March this year by the Health and Safety Executive in the twelfth (2012/2013) report in a series of HID Statistics reports covering offshore injury and incident statistics showed 351 dangerous occurrences were reported, compared to 409 in 2011/12, a reduction of 58, 54% less than the peak of 764 in 2000/01.

The highest standards in health and safety are paramount to any operator and service company working in the energy sector. As a result the technology developed for use on and offshore, to protect the lives of the men and women in the industry is at the forefront of technological advancement, helping drive down injury rates.

A significant amount of waste occurs as a result of supply delays due to bad weather, when supply vessels are unable to gain a position alongside the platform due to wave restrictions. In the worst case the vessel must return to port for crew change however the same containers are on board.  This means perished food must be discarded putting pressure on waste systems offshore and results in reduced crew due to lack of food and water supplies.

Reducing crew due to food shortage is a costly exercise, not only in the cost of mobilisations but in downtime as personnel are still paid if they are removed from the platform. The knock on impact of this has seen critical work and safety scopes suffer major delays. In an industry where planning is paramount and production costs are high, ‘minor details’ such as perished food can cause major and costly complications.

The sustainability of the offshore industry now more than ever depends on seamless support to operators from the supply chain. Companies providing this support must not just build and maintain strong commercial relationships, but also reinvest continually to ensure they offer the best possible technological solutions for the offshore industry.

Refrigerated containers and controlled units are a vital part of this equation, keeping crews healthy and safe even in the most difficult conditions.

Case Study:  the Reftrade UK experience

Explosion proof containers
Explosion proof containers

Reftrade is a major supplier of refrigerated units to the offshore sector, supplying a range of reefer and DNV 2.7.1, EN12079 and ATEX explosion proof containers.

Often the containers will be bespoke builds due to space constraints.  An example of this is the Entier container built to DNV 2.7-1 standards for the Apache Forties Bravo and Forties Alpha platforms. 

Reftrade UK supplied a bespoke DNV 2.7-1 8ft x 5ft x 7.3ft container manufactured to fit into the existing location that would maintain as much internal operational volume as possible. 

Due to the height restrictions the container was designed with a maximum height of 7.3ft, the pad-eyes were designed to be recessed into the corner posts ensuring maximum internal head height. As it was essential that the refrigeration equipment required was as small as possible, a transport style unit was selected consisting of a 110v single-phase slim line evaporator and an externally mounted condenser unit.

The unit was installed with a 4ft light, which exceeded the HSE guidelines for lighting levels. Due to restricted head height it was mounted vertically in a corner of the unit to allow the best dispersion of light with safety in mind.

Modifications to the company’s new and existing range of standard and zoned refrigerated containers include easy access safety doors, overriding man-trap alarms, emergency lighting and interfacing to connect the containers alarms to installation control rooms, improving the safety standard of each unit and more importantly, the safety of personnel using the reefer units. 

Other recent technological enhancements include a track and trace feature for the company’s  units. The new technology has a built-in GPRS/UMTS feature for land based monitoring and tracking to identify the location of each unit.

This innovation is the key component in ISO 10368 power-line communication for monitoring and control of reefer containers on-board vessels or terminals. Each container will be equipped with the technology, enabling it to send data on its operating conditions and alarms to a local monitoring system, such as the REFCON system.

The tracking feature allows the client to monitor their unit remotely and download critical data to establish how long it has been in transit and at what temperature. This information is key to determining whether the unit has been delayed and fresh food has perished before the unit is opened, saving the operator time and money unloading containers with perished food onto platforms. If there are any problems with the cargo, the client will receive an SMS or email message to inform them.

The new technology improves cargo documentation handling processes, reduces the risk of potential cargo damage, reduces operational costs due to less-time-consuming manual inspections, minimises the risk of the cargo being stolen or tampered with and also allows for energy savings due to always updated reefer controller software, which enables the reefer container to run the latest energy efficient programs.

Reftrade UK also offers offering refrigerated containers that run from the lower voltage power supply of 110 volts. The lower voltage is compatible with the vessels transferring the containers and is also safer while they are sitting on the oil and gas platform and rig decks where the probability of water exposure is high.

In addition to this, when there is forecasted or perceived power supply challenges, often on the longer supply routes in international markets, Reftrade UK can manufacture and supply refrigerated containers with chilling options of Eutectic plates, which negate the need for power supply in transit and will keep stored goods at desired temperatures for up to eight days without power.

And in 2013, Reftrade UK announced the availability for rental of 10ft and 20ft ATEX explosion proof containers. Following extensive market research, the company developed the zone-rated containers to offer its customers flexible and safe storage solutions manufactured to full DNV/EN standards.

The explosion proof containers are capable of providing cold storage, in a -20oC to +20oC temperature range, providing a flexible solution for transporting a range of perishable food or goods such as core samples that require specific storage conditions.

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