Britain’s Health & Safety Executive, HSE, has warned the offshore oil and gas industry about its safety record as new statistics show increases in major injuries and unplanned hydrocarbon releases.
Figures released by the HSE show that there were 50 major injuries reported in 2009/10 − up 20 on 2008/09 and higher than the average of 42 over the previous five years. No workers were killed during activities regulated by HSE for the third year running.
The combined fatal and major injury rate almost doubled to 192 per 100,000 workers in 2009/10 compared with 106 in 2008/09 and 156 in 2007/08.
A marked rise was also recorded in 2009/10 of the combined number of major and significant hydrocarbon releases, regarded as potential precursors to a major incident, with a provisional total of 85. There were 61 in 2008/09 − the lowest since HSE began regulating the industry.
In 2009/10 there was a significant reduction in the minor over-three-day injury rate, maintaining a downward trend – 414 workers per 100,000 reported an injury, compared with 496 in the previous year.
443 dangerous occurrences were reported, 34 fewer than in 2008/09. The main types reported were hydrocarbon releases (42%), failure of equipment offshore (23%) well-related incidents (6%) and failures relating to lifting operations (9%).
Says Steve Walker, head of HSE’s offshore division:
"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.
"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 ageing 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."
Industry body Oil & Gas UK has responded to the HSE report. Health, safety and employment issues director Robert Paterson says: “The figures show that, overall, there is a decrease in the number of dangerous occurrences being reported offshore compared to last year. However, the increase in hydrocarbon releases is a concern for the industry.
“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 HSE figures also show an increase in the number of major injuries sustained 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.
“Step Change in Safety runs quarterly workshops where industry figures and the HSE meet face-to-face, share information openly and discuss any lessons learned.
“This learning can then be disseminated back through the participating companies to the workforce where real changes in working practice can then be made.”