A new HSE inspection initiative will check safety management plans to ensure aging oil & gas infrastructure is being taken into account.

UK Offshore's Stats Worsened in Past Year

The Health and Safety Executive last week said the combined fatality and major injury rate for offshore oil and gas in 2009-2010 almost doubled the previous year's rate.

No fatalities were recorded for the third consecutive year in the United Kingdom's offshore oil and gas industry, but its overall safety is not moving in the right direction, the Health and Safety Executive warned Aug. 24. Fifty major injuries reported in 2009-2010 were 20 more than the previous year and above the average of 42 for the previous five years.

The industry's combined fatal and major injury rate was 192 per 100,000 workers in 2009-2010 compared with 106 in 2008-2009 and 156 in 2007-2008. The most recent year's estimated 85 major and significant hydrocarbon releases, which HSE says it considers "potential precursors to a major incident," also increased from 61 in the previous year. HSE said 443 dangerous occurrences were reported, 34 fewer than in 2008-2009, with the main types being hydrocarbon releases (42 percent), failure of equipment offshore (23 percent), well-related incidents (6 percent), and failures relating to lifting operations (9 percent).

"I am pleased to see no fatalities for a third consecutive year in the areas we regulate, but the fact that 17 workers tragically died in other offshore-related travel incidents in the year is a stark reminder that hazards are ever present offshore," said Steve Walker, leader of HSE's offshore division. "Although the overall numbers of injury and dangerous occurrences are comparatively low, considering a workforce of almost 27,000 and the numbers of rigs and the continuous operations undertaken, this does not excuse the fact that the fatal and major injury rate has almost doubled. This year's overall health and safety picture is simply not good enough. The industry has shown it can do better, and it must do in future. I am particularly disappointed, and concerned, that major and significant hydrocarbon releases are up by more than a third on last year. This is a key indicator of how well the offshore industry is managing its major accident potential, and it really must up its game to identify and rectify the root causes of such events.

"We will continue to take a tough line on companies who put their workers at risk. The challenge to improve safety will be ever greater as more offshore installations exceed their original design life. Our new inspection initiative will check safety management plans to ensure aging is being taken into account, but the responsibility for getting safety right in the first place rests where it always has: with the duty holders."

Robert Paterson, HSE issues director for Oil & Gas UK, the trade association for the UK offshore oil and gas industry, said the decrease in reported dangerous occurrences is encouraging, but increased hydrocarbon releases are a concern. "Reducing the number of hydrocarbon releases remains a top priority and is a key focus of the industry's absolute commitment to continuously improving process safety standards," he said. "In 2009, Step Change in Safety, the UK's flagship offshore safety initiative, revised and updated the hydrocarbon release reduction toolkit, containing good practice techniques and guidelines to assist operators in their unremitting efforts to reduce the numbers and size of releases. There also exists as part of Step Change an asset integrity workgroup to support industry-wide engagement on asset integrity."

The latest addition to Step Change in Safety, also announced Aug. 24, is a new Helicopter Safety Steering Group.

"The HSE figures also show an increase in the number of major injuries sustained," Paterson said, "and these are all things which we can't -- and won't -- be complacent about. The industry will now reflect on these statistics and seek a way forward by identifying the things which we can do better."

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