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Did a Disaster Stimulate Change?

Author : John Morse - Senior Market Analyst, IHS

31 July 2013

In early 2013, IHS published a report on the EMEA market for hazardous area equipment. It’s a market estimated to be worth over €2.5 billion in this region alone, three quarters from sales to the oil and gas industry. It is highly profitable and enjoying steady growth but how did this market evolve?

2013 EMEA Hazardous Area research report
2013 EMEA Hazardous Area research report

Health and safety practices have been around a long time. Survival is a basic instinct and so we tend not to do things in such a way that our lives are endangered; or do we? Complacency, cost cutting, human error are all reasons why this instinct fails us sometimes. The only way to combat this is to create a sense of fear possibly by installing a sense of duty but often by legislation which if not adhered to will cost a lot of money or time …. in prison!

Such legislation takes time to establish, hours of discussions in committees etc. unless minds are concentrated by a disaster of gargantuan proportions. This is what happened on 6 July 1988 on an oil rig in the North Sea, 125 miles off-shore from Aberdeen; the 25 year anniversary has recently been remembered. The story goes that during a shift a temporary cap had been put in place on a pipe. The team on the following shift were not advised that gas should not be diverted through this pipe until it had been properly repaired. When they did, the cap blew, gas escaped and the resulting explosion killed 167 of the 228 men on the rig. The fire took three weeks to extinguish and completely destroyed the rig, which at that time, was supplying around ten per cent of the UK’s energy requirement.

The Piper Alpha disaster shook the oil and gas industry to its roots. Despite being in the North Sea the rig was operated by companies from around the world. It remains the worst disaster for the worldwide oil & gas industry - ever.

Faith in the safety of this important industry had been destroyed and had to be rebuilt and rebuilt fast. The Cullen enquiry made over 100 recommendations and by the mid 1990’s the legislation we are familiar with today was being put in place. This included the ATEX directives and later the IECEx certification system. Other introductions include specifications to which equipment must be approved, in order for it to be used in a potentially explosive atmosphere.

The oil & gas industry is the largest market for hazardous area approved equipment. Other substantial users of Ex-rated products include the chemical & pharmaceutical and food & beverage industries. In fact, they are used anywhere there is a potential for dangerous levels of combustible gas or dust. 

Whether the Piper Alpha disaster was the turning point for attitudes to safety will be debated for years to come. We can only hope that it doesn’t take another tragedy to concentrate minds. What’s next for IHS? – a world edition of the hazardous area equipment report of course once again carried out in co-operation with the journal “HazardEx”; this due to be published mid-2014.

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