Health and Safety says North Sea was close to disaster

UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) boss Chris Flint has warned North Sea oil and gas operators about continued hydrocarbon releases, urging the industry to do more to tackle the problem.

He said several gas releases in recent years came “perilously close to disaster.”

Flint sent a letter to the companies to coincide with the approaching 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster.

Flint, director of HSE’s energy division, said that although steps are being taken, the continued hydrocarbon leaks represent failure across the board.

Flint said: “Every HCR is a safety threat, as it represents a failure in an operator’s management of its risks.

“I recognise the steps the industry has taken to reduce the overall number of HCRs, however HCRs remain a concern, particularly major HCRs because of their greater potential to lead to fires, explosions and multiple losses of life.

“There have been several such releases in recent years that have come perilously close to disaster.”

Flint urged operators to look critically at their operations.

Operators are required to respond to the HSE by July 20, 2018.

Flint added: “Experience from our investigations is that HCRs typically happen because there have been failings across the board.

“Poor plant condition, and breaches of procedures are often immediate causes, but beneath that we often find a lack of leadership, a poor safety culture, and evidence that weaknesses have existed for some time, but haven’t been picked up through audit, assurance and review and then dealt with …

“If you get the safety culture right, staff will be much more likely to spot hazards, challenge when standards aren’t right, and be engaged in improvement.

“And if you have an effective system of monitoring and audit in place, leadership will know which systems need fixing, and can target their efforts to prevent the incidents occurring in the first place.”

In a response to the HSE letter, Oil & Gas UK’s chief executive, Deirdre Michie said: “As the HSE recognises in the letter sent to our members, our industry has delivered ‘a substantial and welcome downward trend in the total number of HCRs since 2005’.

“However, we all know there is never room for complacency.

“We understand why the HSE wants to highlight areas where industry can further improve and we continue to work closely with them to reduce hydrocarbon releases.

“The industry is committed to ensuring lessons are learned and good practice is shared, and look forward to using the results of this initiative to progress this important work.”

Offshore union RMT’s general secretary Mick Cash said: “We welcome this intervention by HSE as it comes at a time when the pressure on the off shore workforce is immense in terms of cuts, increased workload and increased working hours.

“We have come close on a few occasions and it’s often been luck as opposed to good management that a disaster was avoided.

“It is appropriate that HSE should issue a statement in the terms they have as it will help to focus minds and remind everyone they must remain vigilant.”