A Dropped Object (DO) incident is a situation in which damage to equipment, serious injury to personnel, or even fatality, is caused by a loose item falling from height. Dropped object (DO) incidents present a major safety risk within both on- and offshore oil & gas environments. Rob Schlipper details how to choose a cost-effective barrier to dropped object risk.
In addition to the risk of material damage to equipment or injury to engineers and technicians working on site, DOs also present further serious threats in this context. These include a potential negative financial impact as a result of the need to repair or replace damaged equipment, and a severe threat to corporate reputation, coupled with potential legal consequences.
The overall risk posed by DOs is elevated by the nature of the conditions in which technicians in the oil & gas industry work. Harsh offshore environments on drilling ships, for example, increase the likelihood of a DO incident occurring, due to the heightened risk of weather-induced corrosion of installations and equipment. Engineers working in remote oil & gas settings are at risk of DO incidents triggered, for instance, by the operation of heavy machinery on site: fittings can become loose and then fall from height as a result of vibrations from intensive drilling.
How Can You Prevent Dropped Object Hazards?
A variety of DO risk mitigation products are available commercially to counter these threats, ranging from netting and tethers to barrier systems such as those provided by Dropsafe. Indeed, barrier systems play a vital role in mitigating DO hazards in the on- and offshore sector. Fitted to the railings of permanent or temporary installations, barriers prevent loose objects from falling down stairwells or from elevated walkways. In oil & gas operations, walkways and stairways are particularly high-risk areas for DO incidents because of both the typically large gaps between railings and the likelihood of technicians working directly below on lower floors of the structure.
Barrier systems for this type of context are available in different forms, not all of which are of sufficient quality and durability to provide a long-term and cost-effective solution to DO risk.
The performance and suitability of DO barrier systems can be assessed in several ways: the design and the materials from which the barrier is made contribute fundamentally to the longevity of safe performance, and the nature of the required installation and maintenance processes is also an essential consideration.
The Dropsafe Barrier is made of robust, high-grade, durable polymer panels that are secured along the inside of guard railings, using a universal attachment system. Bolted or expanded metal barriers are other solutions that can be fitted to the guardrail of platforms, stairways or walkways. Alternatively, barriers made from expanded metal are formed of sheet metal stretched into a pattern of mesh-like material. Flexible mesh netting is another option. Easy to acquire and quick to install, it is made of connected strands of fibre or other flexible materials.
The material from which the DO mitigation product is constructed must be robust enough to withstand the extremities to which it will be exposed: as above, this is particularly important in an oil & gas setting. Metal barriers, for example, are less suitable in such a situation, as they are subject to corrosion, and some types of non-metal barrier can also degrade due to UV exposure and the impact of extreme weather.
The construction material must also have high resistance to the heat and chemicals that are likely to be encountered in oil & gas operations. Indeed, resistance to corrosion and weathering is a key consideration when assessing the expected lifetime of a barrier system. A cheaper fabric netting system installed on an oil rig would be highly susceptible to damage from strong winds, for example, whereas a lightweight but sturdy barrier system designed with harsh operating environments in mind would be a much more suitable mechanism.
A warranty of adequate duration is another key factor and the expected lifetime of different types of barrier varies considerably. The Dropsafe Barrier, for example, has a five-year warranty, while some plastic clip-on alternatives are often only covered under warranty for two years, after which replacement is necessary.
How To Use Dropsafe Barriers?
The versatility and durability of the barrier is demonstrated in the recent case of an international drilling contractor in need of a robust DO prevention solution for installation across its drilling fleet worldwide. Instead of continuing to rely on low-cost steel mesh barrier systems, which had led to escalating maintenance and repair costs to defend against rust and thus ensure the continued safety of staff and equipment, the firm switched to the Dropsafe Barrier system. This was an enduring solution for DO risk mitigation on walkways across the company’s fleet of offshore drill ships and platforms. The barrier can easily withstand the harsh offshore environment, including intense sun and heat. The system proved much swifter to install than other products, with 700m of the barrier being fitted within one week on a flagship drilling vessel in Singapore at the start of the project.
It is essential to find a cost-effective, long-term solution to the challenge of DO risk, rather than employing a temporary or lower quality product. A solution that involves minimal upfront costs is likely to require extensive ongoing maintenance to ensure its continued safe use, leading to higher costs overall. A system requiring minimal maintenance is needed, as in the case of a power generation company in Hong Kong, which recently fitted Dropsafe Barrier systems as a solution to the risk of DO incidents involving specialist technicians working at height in its power station while carrying out routine inspection and maintenance operations.
Following the successful initial installation of the barrier, the project was expanded to encompass the entire plant. The solution was chosen in this scenario due to the swiftness and ease of installation and the lack of ongoing maintenance costs, saving the company time and money.
An Enduring Safety Solution
By opting for an early, long-term investment in a robust DO prevention solution such as the Dropsafe Barrier, firms in the oil & gas industry can make sure not only that they comply with, maintain and extend industry best practice, but also that they ensure the continued safety of staff and equipment, and protect their reputation for keeping, and their obligation to keep, people safe.
Robert Schlipper is CEO of Dropsafe