Piper Alpha changed personnel safety issues forever

Louise Davis

The importance of safety cultures in oil & gas

The Chernobyl disaster in 1986 highlighted the importance of safety cultures and the effect that managerial and human factors have on safety performance. The term ‘safety culture’ was first used in the Summary Report on the post-accident review meeting on the Chernobyl accident where safety culture was described as characteristics and attitudes within organisations that recognise and action plant safety issues.

The devastating loss of 167 lives in 1988 with the Piper Alpha disaster forever changed oil & gas operator processes for personnel safety in the North Sea oil fields and beyond. The disaster forced these operators to adhere to practical legislative and procedural guidelines and has led to a profound cultural shift within the industry. Safety, which was previously neglected in favour of economic and operational imperatives, was positioned at the top of the offshore agenda. For a whole new generation of personnel, from senior managers to graduate engineers, an embedded culture of accountability has become the norm and not the exception.

Hand and finger injuries lead the oil & gas industry’s recordable incident rates every year, with most of these injuries occurring on the rig floor, falling within the “caught between objects” category. The Incident Statistics Programme indicated that 25% of these recorded incidents resulted in lost working time. Over the years, as a result of the downtime costs this has caused, the industry has continued to place more emphasis on eliminating hand and finger injuries. Injury prevention campaigns are nothing new, but companies have recently been increasingly keen on implementing new processes and using new, safer tools.

Broken culture

A broken safety culture is responsible for many of the major process safety disasters that have taken place around the world, across different industries, over the past 20 years. Typical features that relate to these disasters are:

 Profit before safety – productivity came before safety and safety was viewed as a cost, not an investment.

 Ineffective leadership – those in charge in a corporate culture prevented the recognition of risks and hazards, which led to wrong safety decisions being made.

 Non-compliance – managers and workforces not responding to standards, rules and procedures.

 Miscommunication – where critical safety information had not been relayed to decision makers and/or the message had been diluted.

 Competency failures – false expectations that direct hires and contractors were trained and competent.

 Ignoring ‘lessons learned’ – safety critical information was not extracted, shared or later enforced.

Safety minded

To increase safety across industry and to continue to reduce the incident rates for hand and finger related injuries, providers are now making available good practices which can universally prove to be useful to organisations.

Good practice within companies is seen by adopting a “hands off” policy, where operators do not touch loads after they have been fitted/secured.

Within the tools category, hammers represent the greatest opportunity for hand or finger injuries. Gloves need to be worn, providing the appropriate PPE, alongside the correct tool for the job.

A second key approach is to clearly identify pinch points as everyone is responsible for being aware of the hazards around them.

Often technicians can place their non-dominant hand in the hazardous area, increasing the risk of hand injuries. Making employees aware of hand placement is crucial.
Introducing pre-risk assessment and job safety analysis that must review hand safety and the hazards that can occur, such as pinch points, crush zones, puncture risk, etc., is also essential.

During tool-box talks and training, create an awareness of the effects of what a hand injury can cause. Identify simple day to day tasks that will become difficult.

For more information visit Hands Free Bolting

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