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November 26, 2009

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Flagship offshore safety initiative at “crossroads”

After 12 years in operation, Step Change in Safety — the oil and gas

sector’s safety initiative — is now at a crossroads and needs new

impetus if it is to achieve its goal of making the UK the safest region

in the industry worldwide.

This was the message conveyed to delegates at industry body Oil & Gas UK’s final Aberdeen breakfast briefing in 2009. Attendees heard from the programme’s two co-chairs, Gordon Ballard (pictured) — chair of Schlumberger Oilfield UK plc — and John Forrest — vice-president of Talisman Energy (UK) Ltd — who outlined how workforce engagement, strong leadership and personal responsibility would form the main body of work it will undertake next year to realise its ambition.

The recent KP3 review indicated that the industry has made significant improvements in asset integrity, while the latest figures on the combined fatal and major injury rate and hydrocarbon releases — the lowest since the HSE began regulating the industry — suggest good progress on safety.

Nevertheless, Steve Walker, the new head of the HSE’s Offshore Division, warned in September that the industry must not become complacent on asset integrity. “I recognise the challenges in keeping ageing installations fit for purpose at a time when industry is looking at the technical and cost demands in developing existing fields, especially in the context of the economic climate and the ongoing energy debate,” he explained. “However, this is no excuse for delaying or putting off essential work. Industry must pay attention to every detail, no matter how small, if it potentially puts safety at risk.”

Speaking at the breakfast meeting on 25 November, Ballard stressed that learning from past incidents and sharing best practice are still key to continuous improvement, and went on to champion the merits of a culture where everyone takes responsibility for safety.

He said: “Past accidents and near misses are an invaluable source of information that, if acted upon, can reduce the chances of somebody being injured. As an industry we must actively seek to share this information and learn from it.

“However, to bring about further significant improvements in health and safety performance we need everyone to work together towards a set of common goals. For that to become a reality, each and every party within our industry must accept this responsibility. The industry must strive to develop a genuine management-workforce partnership based on trust, respect and cooperation.”

John Forrest then explained how Step Change in Safety’s focus on asset integrity would be tied in with greater effort to encourage such a culture: “Preventing major accidents is at the top of our agenda, and the work of the Asset Integrity Group will involve getting leaders and engineers out to site to promote the benefits of educated eyes visiting the sharp end of our business.

“We need this strong and visible leadership; the importance of actually showing up is huge. Those site visits — whether it’s offshore, onshore, the workshop, on the vessel, or at the heliport — are so important. If you as a leader are not obviously passionate about safety improvement, then don’t expect your people to be.”

Forrest added that the Step Change Leadership Team would be modified so that “shop floor and site supervisory and management levels are directly represented”, and hoped that certain sectors, such as aviation, which does not currently have a seat on the Team, would be more involved.

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