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July 20, 2011

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Offshore chief demands more action to reduce gas leaks

The HSE’s head of offshore safety has welcomed the latest fall in the number of oil and gas leaks that have the potential to lead to a major incident, but has warned the industry not to rest on its laurels.

Figures from the HSE published yesterday (19 July) show that there were 73 major, or significant hydrocarbon releases on offshore installations in 2010/11, compared with 85 during the previous year. Although more than the 61 recorded in 2008/09 – the lowest since the Executive began regulating the industry – the reduction this year continues the overall downward trend in the total of all reported hydrocarbon releases offshore.

Last year, the industry’s Step Change in Safety programme pledged, through its member companies, to redouble efforts to reduce the number of reportable leaks by 50 per cent over three years.

Welcoming the renewed drive and the progress backed up by the latest figures, Steve Walker, head of offshore safety at the HSE, said: “Hydrocarbon releases are a key indicator of how well the offshore industry is managing its major accident risks, but the industry still hasn’t matched, or exceeded, the record lows of two years ago.

“I welcome the industry’s recent Step Change target of halving the number of hydrocarbon releases over three years. However, although there has been a reduction in oil and gas leaks, the industry needs to pick up the pace of improvement if it is to meet its own target. I expect all operators to be drawing up and implementing plans to achieve that goal.”

Hydrocarbon releases accounted for more than a third (39 per cent) of all dangerous occurrences reported in 2010/11 – of which there were 432, 11 fewer than the previous year. Just over a quarter (26 per cent) related to equipment failures.

For the fourth year running, no workers were killed during offshore activities regulated by the HSE, while the combined fatal and major injury rate fell to 151.8 per 100,000 workers in 2010/11, compared with 192 in 2009/10. The five-year average prior to 10/11 is 164.3.

The number of major injuries fell from 50 in 2009/10 to 42 this year, bringing the total in line with the average of the previous five years. Minor injuries that led to three or more days off work also dropped to 106 – a 7.4-per-cent reduction on the figure for 2009/10 and an all-time low in the over-three-day injury rate.

Industry body Oil & Gas UK said the statistics reflected the huge effort made in the last year “to get back on track” after the previous year’s poor performance. Health and safety director Robert Paterson said: “The reduction in the number of major injuries and the fact that we’ve seen a four-year period without a fatality on an offshore installation are also very encouraging. Indeed, in terms of lost-time injury rates, the offshore industry continues to outperform general manufacturing and even the public sector.”

However, he also pointed to areas where further improvement could be made, including efforts to learn and share information on incidents and their underlying causes, and encouraging greater workforce engagement on health and safety matters.

The HSE offshore statistics can be found at

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