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November 9, 2012

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Offshore industry must do more on workforce involvement, says HSE

More innovative approaches are needed to involve oil and gas workers in the long-term management of ageing offshore assets, according to the HSE.

The Executive’s interim report on KP4 – an inspection programme to improve the management of the consequences of ageing UK offshore installations – calls on the oil and gas sector to boost efforts on worker engagement.

While welcoming the work that duty-holders have already done in this area –including the holding of specific ageing and life-extension (ALE) events to engage with the offshore workforce – the HSE’s report stresses that more is required. It advocates the possible use of “innovative approaches to involve the workforce in the long-term management of ageing offshore assets as the UK’s offshore industry grows in maturity, a subject on which the Offshore safety Division is in discussion with Step Change in Safety (the industry’s flagship safety initiative)”.

Around half of the fixed platforms on the UK Continental Shelf have exceeded their original design life, usually specified as 25 years, and a significant number of floating installations are approaching, or have exceeded, this lifespan.

Onshore HSE studies have found that about 60 per cent of major-accident incidents are related to technical integrity and, of these, half have ageing as a contributory factor. Ageing is not just limited to hardware, but also includes processes, software, control systems and issues around people working in the sector.

HSE inspections carried out so far have found that all duty-holders are discussing asset-integrity management (AIM) at a senior level and are developing ALE policies and procedures through specific task groups. The report suggests that further improvement could be achieved if ALE policies and procedures were embedded into existing AIM programmes, with an ALE manager to oversee the broad picture.

On process safety management – another key issue concerned with the prevention of uncontrolled loss of containment of flammable hydrocarbons, which may result in fire and explosion – the inspections confirmed that existing, routine operating and maintenance systems are widely used to identify most process-safety ALE issues.

Industry body Oil & Gas UK welcomed the report, stressing that with the right management approach, mature assets can be maintained to be operated safely and effectively well beyond their originally-conceived service life.

The group’s health and safety policy manager, Bob Lauder, said: “We’re pleased to see highlighted the fact that duty-holders are taking ageing and life extension very seriously, with a strong recognition among senior managers of the importance of these issues.”

He added: “The HSE report does also identify some areas where industry needs to retain focus, in order to ensure long-term plans are in place to anticipate and manage the effects of equipment degradation in the future, and to increase workforce involvement in the management of ageing and life extension.

“The industry has already identified these findings and work is well underway to tackle these issues directly.”

KP4 will run until December 2013. The interim report is available at: www.hse.gov.uk/offshore/index.htm

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