Sparked by a freefall lifeboat incident nine years ago Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority will chew on comments regarding proposed new lifeboat safety rules over the next few months. The aim, says the PSA is “returning us to the level of safety we thought prevailed in 2005”.
Some 480 lifeboats may be affected and the offshor industry has alleged that the regulations could cost $10bn to implement. While the changes will apply to operations on the Norwegian Continental Shelf, NCS, it is likely that PSA’s opposite number, the UK’s Health and Safety Authority, may review its own regulations on lifeboats.
A further issue specific to freefall designs is the effect of impact on the forward part of the lifeboat, in particular the forward window and the superstructure.
A freefall lifeboat was damaged during a test on Veslefrikk B offshore facility on the Norwegian Shelf on 21 June 2005. The report by Veslefrikk B operator Statoil concludes that the superstructure of the relevant lifeboat may have had manufacture and/or design flaws.
Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority reported: “The PSA asked the supplier of this type of lifeboat – Umoe Schat-Harding – to inform all of its customers that use FF 1000-type lifeboats about the incident on Veslefrikk B…Statoil’s investigation report does not provide any clear conclusions as to why the damage occurred, but the company has appointed a new group which has been given a mandate to identify the flaw. Since the causal relations are unclear, Statoil cannot rule out that the weakness on the free-fall lifeboat has relevance for comparable types of free-fall lifeboats…Based on the investigation report, Statoil concluded in the meeting with the PSA that the company is in doubt concerning the quality of these lifeboats as a means of evacuation during all types of weather conditions..The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway shares this doubt.”
Extensive studie found that neither freefall nor davit-lowered lifeboats on the NCS satisfied the official requirements for evacuation. Weaknesses identified related to the structural strength of lifeboat superstructures and hulls, gravitational forces acting on passengers, and the propulsion needed to escape from a facility.
“A functional requirement in the regulations is that it must be possible to evacuate personnel from offshore facilities to a safe area in all weather conditions,” says Anne Vatten, the PSA’s director of legal and regulatory affairs.
PSA says that Statoil has been the flagship in efforts to upgrade lifeboats on the NCS, and appreciated the need for improvements at an early stage. It has devoted substantial efforts to finding solutions for the facilities it operates, including the development of completely new lifeboats which meet the evacuation requirements.
After a further systematic review of its lifeboats, Statoil informed the PSA this summer about structural weaknesses in a number of its freefall craft.
The company has accordingly introduced operational restrictions on 14 of its facilities, and an upgrade plan is now in place. It had a meeting as recently as September with the PSA to present its new findings.
“It’s positive that Statoil has conducted this thorough review and accepted responsibility,” says PSA director-general Anne Myhrvold. ”
“The proposed regulatory changes don’t involve any sharpening of this requirement. They’re intended first and foremost to clarify the provisions on structural strength, passenger safety and propulsion. References are also provided to new standards and norms produced by the industry itself.
“Strictly speaking, the proposed amendments to the regulations merely involve returning us to the level of safety we thought prevailed in 2005.”
“Together with the lifeboat suppliers, it has made a substantial contribution in this area and deserves praise for that.”
Inspections by Australia’s National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority, NOPSA, in 2011, also led to similar concerns.
Offshore lifeboats have also been in the sights of the UK HSE for several years. It has called into question the applicability of IMO-derived standards. A 2007 Overview of TEMPSC (Totally Enclosed Motor Proplled Survival Craft – lifeboats) Performance Standards issued by the UKHSE notes: “What is apparent, however, is that the standards are based entirely on the equipment being used on vessels and the needs unique to that environment. For instance, the likely accelerations on free-fall lifeboat occupants are considered in great detail whereas the effect on the craft’s structural integrity during launch is only briefly addressed and then only with acceptance criteria that appear to be subjective.