The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has written to all operators of offshore gas and oil production in the North Sea to stress the importance of reducing the number of hydrocarbon releases (HCRs).
According to the organisation, the industry needs to do more to deal with HCRs, despite the strides that many operators have made in recent years by reducing their frequency.
An HCR is an oil or gas leak, with Oil & Gas UK describing them as a “key hazard management issue” for the offshore oil and gas industry. Although there are robust measures in place to control, prevent, detect and mitigate HCRs, the HSE is concerned that more could still be done.
Director of Energy Division at the health and safety organisation, Chris Flint described every HCR that occurs as “a safety threat, as it represents a failure in an operator’s management of its risks”.
He went on to acknowledge the steps that the offshore oil and gas industry has undertaken in reducing HCRs, but stressed that they are still concerning. He is particularly worried about major HCRs “because of their greater potential to lead to fires, explosions and multiple losses of life”.
“There have been several such releases in recent years that have come perilously close to disaster,” Mr Flint commented.
He went on to explain that the HSE believes that HCRs occur as a result of “failings across the board”. Therefore, a new approach is needed to further reduce the number of these incidents in the offshore oil and gas sector.
In his letter to the operators, Mr Flint stated: “If you get the safety culture right, staff are much more likely to spot hazards and challenge when standards aren’t right, and be engaged in improvement.”
According to the HSE’s assessment of these incidents, the immediate causes of HCRs are breaches in procedure or poor plant condition, however, these are enabled by a range of factors, including a lack of leadership, a poor safety culture and the failure to identify weaknesses through audit, assurance and review.
The implementation of robust and workable Emergency Response Plans as well as an Emergency Response team based at the scene of an incident, who are made up of key site-based personal such as crisis management team members, shift supervisors, incident controllers, health and safety managers and employees may be just two things an organisation can consider in-order to improve safety culture.
The aim, according to the HSE, should be to prevent HCRs from happening in the first place. Deirdre Michie, Chief Executive of Oil & Gas UK, acknowledged that operators in the sector have more to do to reduce the frequency of such incidents, but highlighted the improvements made in reducing HCRs since 2005.
“We all know there is never room for complacency,” she stated. “We understand why the HSE wants to highlight areas where industry can further improve and we continue to work closely with them to reduce hydrocarbon releases.”
Ms Michie added that those working in the sector are “committed to ensuring lessons are learned and good practice is shared”.
The HSE has issued its call to oil and gas producers in the lead up to the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster. A gas leak caused an explosion on the oil production platform, destroying it and resulting in over 150 fatalities.