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The continuous need for an open, inquisitive and inclusive offshore safety culture

The Safety 30 Conference and Exhibition was held in Aberdeen to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster. The event gave the industry the opportunity not only to reflect upon improvements in HSE practices and to make sure that safety lessons learned are being implemented, but also to discuss the major challenges of today. Among others, presentations were made by Lord Cullen, Chairman of the Piper Alpha Public Inquiry, Deirdre Michie, CEO of Oil & Gas UK, Paul Wheelhouse MSP, Minster for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands, and Phil Kirk, CEO of Chrysaor.ere. The key points they made are listed below:

Piper Alpha

Lord Cullen, Chairman of the Piper Alpha Public Inquiry

  • People need to be able to recognise early signs of danger – from the boardroom to the workplace
  • The underlying problems leading to an accident should be sought and discovered – analysing only technical faults and individual mistakes leads to a misguiding belief that the problem has been solved when, in fact, it might reoccur
  • It is essential that recommendations are embedded in action – an issue across industries is the lack of incentive to act and change existing practice
  • Management should be inquisitive about the workforce’s experiences and safety concerns – incidents can be prevented by timely actions and adoption of new precautionary measures
  • Learned attitudes can diminish awareness of danger – people should be trained to question assumptions and differentiate them from facts
  • The failure to give priority to safety remains a challenge
  • The failure to instil in others responsibility for identifying and resolving safety issues also remains a challenge

Deirdre Michie – CEO, Oil & Gas UK

  • Oil & Gas UK has issued 22 sets of guidelines to help operators and duty holders work within a goal-setting, rather than prescriptive regulatory environment; 11 initiatives (such as Step Change in Safety) to improve awareness and engagement in addition to regulation and management systems
  • Industry more attuned to risk and engagement in safety matters despite recent job security and morale issues; hardware improvements and higher level of technological integrity contribute (use of drones for inspections, virtual learning, remote monitoring, predictive reliability and maintenance analytics)
  • The most recent health and safety report shows improving safety performance – reportable injuries reached second lowest level since safety regulations came into force, while the total number of process safety incidents are the lowest on record
  • Remaining risks linked to hydrocarbon releases
  • Increases in safety critical maintenance backlog
  • Industry has to remember the hard lessons learned and not compromise safe operations despite the ongoing tight operator budgets and sometimes unsustainable contractor margins
  • Handing the baton to the next generation – transmission of knowledge to young professionals entering the industry should be a top priority
  • Transparent information and open debate fundamental parts of a strong HSE culture

Paul Wheelhouse MSP – Minster for Energy, Connectivity and the Islands

  • Recent Oil & Gas UK Business Outlook outlines improved training conditions and more new investment
  • Transfer of skills, innovation and people from the oil and gas industry to low-carbon energy industries an important process in the near future
  • Technological progress, energy transition and maturing oil fields will require new workers, roles, tasks and a more collaborative approach with a consequent shift in oilfield culture
  • According to DNV GL’s recent status safety report, nearly half of the oil and gas industry professionals believe not enough has been invested in safety in recent years
  • Digital transformation and innovation playing increasingly important roles in the delivery of safety solutions for the industry
  • Oil and gas sector changes demand a collaborative and inclusive approach to HSE

Phil Kirk – CEO, Chrysaor

  • The industry has to find a way of releasing the competence and skills of people more – workforce should be more involved in the decision-making process
  • Hydrocarbon releases decreasing, but there are still major occurrences – on few occasions there was only one safety barrier or none safety barriers left
  • Need to share the learning from these releases or near misses much more than at present
  • Everybody must be concerned about safety and the preventive measures that can be implemented
  • Management should be more connected to the workforce, visit platforms and talk to people that work offshore
  • People should be encouraged to say what feels right or wrong, what they like and what they do not
  • Innovation and encouraging people to find new ways of doing things essential
  • Major accident hazard prevention should be part of the culture – not an afterthought, an initiative or a programme

To sum up, over the years a lot has been done to improve HSE knowledge and practice in the offshore oil and gas industry. Statistics show that the number of incidents offshore is decreasing and many of the lessons from past mistakes have been learned. Nevertheless, one common theme that speakers addressed is the remaining need for companies to have an open, inquisitive and inclusive safety culture that is continually vigilant.

Encompass ICOE’s HSE eCompendium does not have all the answers, but it helps address this challenge by providing material that stimulates discussion and education, both essential parts of such a safety culture.

The interdisciplinary nature of this resource aims to break down silo thinking, improve company-wide HSE understanding and facilitate the sharing of knowledge across the industry. Professionals from all companies and all company levels are welcome to contribute with new articles and fresh ideas in following editions of the eCompendium for a safer tomorrow.

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