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Let's not get complacent

29 September 2009

It would only take one sub-standard pipe work repair or an unsound permit-to-work, to lead to another offshore disaster on the scale of the Piper Alpha tragedy, when 167 men lost their lives. As happened on July 6, 1988, a minor oversight could lead to a chain of events resulting in disaster. It is therefore vital that offshore operators do not become complacent, especially when the safety record in the offshore sector is improving year by year.

Head of HSE Offshore Division, Steve Walker warns against complacency
Head of HSE Offshore Division, Steve Walker warns against complacency

Steve Walker is the new head of the HSE’s Offshore Division and has put tackling complacency on safety at the top of his priority list.

Walker wants to ensure that the good progress being made in improving safety does not lead the offshore industry taking its eye off the ball. HSE’s recent KP3 review, published in July, showed that the offshore industry has made significant improvements in asset integrity and the recently released figures for combined fatal and major injury rate and hydrocarbon releases – the lowest since HSE began regulating the industry – suggest good progress on safety.

Despite this progress, Walker is quick to point out the challenges in keeping aging installations fit for purpose at a time when industry is looking at the technical and cost demands in developing existing fields, especially in the context of the economic climate and the ongoing energy debate. However, these mitigations cannot be taken as an excuse for delaying or putting off essential work. "Industry must pay attention to every detail, no matter how small, if it potentially puts safety at risk," warned Walker.

"I intend to continue to drive up standards in the industry and ensure that there is no room for complacency. I need to see industry putting its money where its mouth is in terms of improving asset integrity. Though progress is being made, the work is far from complete.
"In addition to asset integrity, developing leadership, competence and safety culture with the focus on effective workforce involvement will remain key priorities for the Offshore Division," he added.

Chemical engineer

Having worked in industry and with a degree in Chemical Engineering, Walker joined HSE in 1976 as a factory inspector before working in a number of operational posts. He carried out inspections, audits, accident investigations and enforcement activity in a wide range of industries including major hazard chemical plants, railways, construction, agriculture and general manufacturing. And he spent five years working on international and national policy for the transport of dangerous goods.

Whilst HSE’s Assistant Chief Inspector of Railways, a role he took up in 1999, Walker led the HSE investigation into the Ladbroke Grove rail crash, the biggest rail incident in the UK for 10 years. After working briefly in HSE’s Rail Policy Division Walker joined the Offshore Division in 2004.

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