Ross Moloney on ensuring lifting best practice in the oil and gas sector
The Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) is driving the much-needed maintenance on the relevant lifting standards in the Oil and Gas sector and is keeping LEEA members providing services to the sector up-to-date on best practices. Here, we highlight the lifting issues for end users in the sector.
Offshore oil and gas platforms are the very definition of a hazardous environment, and the risks inherent in lifting operations are well known. Put the two together, and the potential for catastrophe is evident, so it is no surprise that the operation, maintenance and inspection of lifting equipment offshore is particularly well regulated.
Or is it? In a recent LEEA webinar, Ben Dobbs, LEEA’s head of Technical Services, described the work the association is currently carrying out to help correct deficiencies in a range of standards and codes of practice that are variously out of date, incomplete, poorly written or in some cases, simply non-existent.
LEEA is, for example, taking a lead within CEN, the European Committee for Standardisation, to rewrite standards EN 13155 (‘Non-fixed load lifting attachments’) and EN 13157 (‘Hand powered cranes’). EN 13155 covers a variety of attachments, such as spreader beams and grabs, but in its most recent iteration, there were errors associated with test factors, which means that it isn’t actually possible to design a compliant spreader beam. These errors have been fixed, and the revised standard has been published. While on the case, there is also the opportunity to introduce a more pragmatic, ‘sliding scale’ approach to the design of equipment within the scope of the standard, which could assist in harmonisation and break down barriers to trade.
There are comparable problems with EN 13157. This covers a variety of manual lifting machines, such as hand chain hoists and lever hoists. As Dobbs explained, the current version of the standard is an acknowledged compromise which tried to accommodate varying practices across Europe. As a result, not all of the essential health and safety issues are covered. There are also questions over the detail of verification techniques, with the suggestion that these do not necessarily deliver repeatable results and that the illustrations in the standard are poor, unrealistic and potentially misleading.
Furthermore, the coverage of technology is over a decade out of date and fails to recognise changes in materials, products and manufacturing methods – especially relevant since much of this equipment is now manufactured outside Europe.
Dobbs’ technical team of three is also addressing BS 7121-11, the code of practice for the safe use of cranes (Part 11 is specific to the offshore industry). Dobbs described this as ‘extremely out of date’, which is a fair comment given that the current version is dated August 1998.
More worrying still is BS 7121-2-11. Part 2-11 should be a code of practice for the inspection and thorough examination of offshore cranes – but in fact, there is no current version, with the result that there is no inspection standard specific to the offshore industry and recognising its particular environment and challenges.
LEEA believes there is an urgent need to revisit BS 7121-11, taking on the learnings from recent accidents and aiming to prevent recurrences, and is building a business case for this. As with all LEEA’s work, there is a real need for the membership to get involved in defining the deficiencies and shortcomings in existing standards and codes of practice and in working together to create and promote improvements.
Complementary to the BS codes, LEEA publishes its own codes of practice. LEEA 033, ‘Hand chain hoists and lever hoists used in the offshore and subsea environments’ has recently been revised and republished, and version 9.1 of the Code of Practice for the Safe Use of Lifting Equipment (COPSULE), shortly to be published, will include specific reference to current offshore practices. This will include consideration of corrosive conditions and extreme temperatures (hot and cold), especially where equipment is regularly used at maximum capacity and is often a ‘standard kit’ that, while within the regulations, has not been designed with these conditions in mind. And as the code will stress, proper maintenance and storage are just as important as selecting the right equipment.
Mark Taylor, a specialist lifting engineer with Total Energy, joining the webinar from ‘somewhere in the North Sea’, highlighted the need for Standards, Codes of Practice and training specific to inspectors in the offshore environment. There is a real need, he said, for inspectors and those who manage them to have a clearer understanding of the costs and impacts of inspection activities offshore. “Onshore, a taxi is £50 and a hotel room £100. Offshore the taxi is several thousand pounds, and the hotel room costs millions.” But those aren’t the costs that matter – it’s the impact on operations. “It’s not like stopping a factory; offshore, it is £250,000 a day, perhaps much more.”
Impact Of Inspections
Inspections inevitably have some impact, but this could be mitigated with preparation, forethought and understanding. Taylor said he had known inspectors arrive on a rig with no PPE – “we can supply, but it might take a helicopter or supply boat. There’s no sending guys to the shops for the right piece of equipment or back to the office for the right piece of paper.” In his view, there is a real need for the training and induction of inspectors to include an understanding of the environment they are working in.
Digitisation Makes A Difference
One way of minimising the impact of inspections and avoid having to go back to the office for the right piece of paper is digitisation, according to Evy Maffini at Onix Work, which develops cloud-based systems to support precisely this sort of work. The common challenges, she said, are those of thousands of usages every day, and multiple sets of rules and regulations, which may apply differently in different circumstances and making compliance difficult, especially with manual documentation. Records are often duplicated to multiple systems that don’t communicate – except, of course when things aren’t recorded at all.
Maffini claimed that, by using a system such as Onix, whereby equipment suppliers, owners, inspectors and users are all on the same platform, and in particular, by using an app on-site, rather than filing results later, ‘back at the office’, digitised inspections can increase efficiency, improve safety, and save money. As a demonstration, Onix has tested its inspection app against its standard work platform on two identical rigs off Norway. Using the app with modern work processes and digital rather than paper checklists, inspection required two inspectors rather than three, and two weeks rather than three: that is a saving of five personnel weeks or a lot of money for a more efficient and reliable inspection.
Of course, ‘duty holders’, suppliers, end users and inspectors can rarely wait for the next version of a standard or code – but technical advice for LEEA members is only a phone call away: the association aims to deal with every query within 48 hours but usually in two hours ‘or while you are still on site’, in Dobbs’ words. There is also a plethora of guidance documents and other information available on the LEEA’s website.
Ross Moloney is CEO of the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA)