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Oil & Gas UK Health and Safety Report confirms improving trends in offshore safety

13 June 2013

Oil & Gas UK’s annual Health & Safety report published June 13 shows that while several major incidents had to be addressed in the period covered by this report, non-fatal, over-three day, and combined fatal and major injury rates have all been in steady decline and cases of non-compliance with verification are at an all-time low.

Oil & Gas UK’s health and safety director, Robert Paterson, said: “In all this progress, our industry’s safety organisation, Step Change in Safety, has played a leading role and most of the improvement is down to the focused, collaborative effort of companies, workforce representatives, Trade Unions and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in Step Change." 

In terms of safety performance, the report finds:

* A 48% reduction in the number of reportable hydrocarbon releases over three years 

* Despite being a major hazard industry, in terms of non-fatal accidents the sector is the third-best performer in the UK. It has a better safety record than the public sector, retail and general manufacturing with only finance/business and education performing better 

* A noticeable and steady reduction in the incidence of over-three day injuries to an all-time low 

* No fatalities and a reduction in combined fatal and major injury rates, and in all types of dangerous occurrences 

* An all-time low in Level 3 verification non-compliances which relate to performance standards of safety critical equipment identified by an independent competent person 

In terms of health and safety incidents in 2012, two occurrences dominate, namely the two separate helicopter ditching incidents and the Elgin G4 well control incident.

Although the helicopter incidents incurred no serious injuries to people, they did result in a decision to suspend flights involving EC225 aircraft types pending investigation to establish and deal with root cause failures. The operational impact of that suspension has been significant and continues to challenge the industry’s flexibility and resilience. As this report goes to press, work continues to ensure a safe return of the EC225s to service and to restore the full UK helicopter fleet capability.

The Elgin G4 well control incident presented challenges to the operator, Total E&P UK Ltd, in terms of their emergency response management, well kill operations and post-incident restoration programme. The event resulted in a lengthy field shutdown and a costly recovery exercise. It also caused the industry to reflect again on how it manages its high pressure, high temperature well inventory and work is still ongoing to review and improve such operations as necessary.

Total reacted with commendable speed to ensure the safety of the people on the installation with a swift and successful evacuation. The safe and efficient rescue of personnel in this, as well as the two helicopter incidents, is testament to the extensive training our offshore workers regularly undergo to prepare for and respond to these emergency situations.

The proposed EU Regulation of offshore oil and gas safety continued to exercise Oil & Gas UK and its member companies. Oil & Gas UK adopted a leading advocacy position in contesting the draft Regulation as part of a well-marshalled challenge that saw the industry, regulators and trade unions unite behind the common cause of ensuring appropriate, fit-for-purpose EU legislation that does not impair our existing world-class regulatory framework.

The focus on ageing and life extension (ALE) was maintained through 2012 and the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) related Key Programme 4 inspection programme is due to be completed by the end of 2013. Oil & Gas UK has worked effectively with the HSE to develop common, industry-wide strategies and practices for managing ALE to ensure the remaining hydrocarbon resources in the basin are recovered safely.

Paterson said: “This year’s Health & Safety report shows that the industry’s unwavering commitment to continuous improvement in the safety of offshore workers is bearing fruit. Our industry has long performed well in terms of non-fatal accidents, better than sectors that would generally be considered lower hazard, including retail and the public sector. 

“Significantly, the report shows that the industry has also achieved a 48% reduction in the number of hydrocarbon releases over three years, falling just short of the tough target set by the industry in 2010 to halve releases over that time. 

“However there is no room for complacency. While the review that followed the Piper Alpha disaster provided the foundation for what is now one of the most robust offshore health and safety regimes in the world, the approaching 25th anniversary of that tragedy only serves to remind us that we must never stop at striving to make things safer. Continued engagement of all parties through Step Change in Safety will be crucial in that effort.

“I am particularly proud of the part played by Oil & Gas UK in persuading the European Commission to drop its proposed Regulation on offshore oil and gas safety and instead proceed with a Directive. Again, the involvement of regulators and trade unions in this proved to be of huge importance and worth. The result leaves our world-class regulatory framework largely in-tact and enables the industry and regulators in the UK to continue on the path of continuous improvement without the major distraction of having to dismantle the existing safety system. Ongoing work around asset integrity, field life extension and aviation safety are further examples of our determination never to avoid health and safety issues, no matter how challenging they may be.”

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