Australian Offshore Companies Warned on Survival Craft Overloading

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority says operators should upgrade or replace their Totally Enclosed Motor Propelled Survival Craft if they cannot safely carry the personnel assigned to them, or reduce the number of personnel on board.

Totally Enclosed Motor Propelled Survival Craft (TEMPSC) are escape pods for use by offshore oil and gas workers. Australia's National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority, known as NOPSA, says its findings from recent incidents and inspections show their use should be reviewed because the current stipulation for safe working loads of these vessels is based on an average passenger weight of 75 kilograms. "This average however, is not representative of the average weight for Australian offshore workers, which is typically closer to 90-95 kilograms. Some average weights recorded have been well in excess of 100 kilograms," the authority reports in its latest newsletter. "As the 'On Load Release Gear' of TEMPSC are only load-tested to 1.1 times the calculated Safe Working Load, there is a risk that without recognition of the actual crew weight, craft and gear could be dangerously overloaded in the event of an emergency."

TEMPSC used in Australia are subject to Class Prescription, Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS) and International Maritime Organization requirements, and IMO stipulates the Safe Working Load should be based on 75 kilograms. NOPSA says actual passenger weight information may be used to develop a loading plan, and the information is typically already collected as a requirement of helicopter transport to and from an offshore facility.

"While not limited to the Australian industry, NOPSA has identified this as an issue regarding the use and deployment of life craft described in the Safety Cases of certain vessels and structures operating as facilities in the Australian offshore oil and gas industry," the authority states, adding that it will consider this issue when assessing both new and revised Safety Cases for offshore facilities. It says operators should review their Safety Cases to ensure they adequately address weight restriction issues and, if necessary, should upgrade or replace their Totally Enclosed Motor Propelled Survival Craft if they cannot safely carry the personnel assigned to them, or reduce the number of personnel on board.

NOPSA also recently issued two prohibition notices about use of nitrox generators to generate oxygen-enriched gas for use in diving operations. Prohibition notices are issued when an OHS inspector forms the view that there is an immediate threat to health or safety; in this case, the manufacturer's manual for a high-pressure compressor used with the nitrox generator indicated the compressor was suitable only for non-breathable industrial gases, and the material safety data sheet for lubricating oil used in connection with the nitrox generator indicated the oil was incompatible with oxidizing agents, yet the gas being produced was an oxygen-enriched oxygen-nitrogen gas mix.

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