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August 2, 2010

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HSE’s offshore inspection programme to target ageing structures

With more than 40 years’ oil and gas production behind them many of the fixed installations in the North Sea have exceeded their original design life, or soon will, so the HSE has launched a new offshore inspection programme to ensure ageing infrastructure does not compromise safety.

The aims of the Ageing & Life Extension Inspection Programme (KP4) are:

  • to identify duty-holders’ approaches to the management of the risks to asset integrity associated with ageing and life extension;
  • to raise awareness of the need for specific consideration of ageing issues as a distinct activity within the asset integrity management process;
  • to enforce an appropriate programme of remedial action where necessary; and
  • to work with the offshore industry to establish a common approach to the management of ageing installations.

As noted by the HSE’s head of offshore safety, Steve Walker, at the launch of the programme last week, the issue of ageing installations is not a new one. A review last year of the action taken in the wake of the previous (KP3) inspection programme found that although the industry had devoted considerable resource to improving asset integrity some concerns remained, particularly in light of current adverse economic conditions.

Speaking to senior industry managers at the launch, Steve Walker warned: “Ageing offshore installations run the risk of deterioration, which can have serious consequences for installation and asset integrity. This is not acceptable. The safety of 28,000 workers is dependent on systems and structures being in good working order, now and in the future.”

He made it clear that if installations are going to be used beyond their original anticipated design life “operators need to look to the future and anticipate inevitable consequences”. This, he added, will be a priority for the HSE, which will be “seeking evidence and reassurance that operators are properly considering ageing and life extension as a key and distinct part of their asset-integrity management plans”.

The offshore industry, which, together with the sector’s unions, has worked closely with the HSE on its inspection programmes, welcomed the announcement. Referring to the concerted effort in the wake of KP3 to ensure installations remain fit for purpose, the chief executive of Oil & Gas UK, Malcolm Webb, said: “The actions of the industry, the regulator and the trade unions, via Step Change in Safety, all working closely together towards a continuous improvement in safety performance, have resulted in a reduction in the number of offshore injuries and incidents in recent years.

“However, despite the progress made, we know that work on safety is never done; inspection programmes such as this are essential in keeping the industry firmly on its goal of operating its assets to the highest possible standard.”

KP4 will run until September 2013 and will include the development of technical information for operators on ageing installations, covering three areas: structural integrity and the integrity of process plant; fire and explosion; and electrical and control systems.

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