A focus on preventing major offshore incidents is leading some companies to neglect the general maintenance of their oil and gas platforms. That is the key finding of a report published by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) into external corrosion management.
HSE's head of offshore, Steve Walker, is using the opportunity to commend companies for their continuing efforts in ensuring safety critical elements are working effectively to prevent disaster, but is warning that workers' day-to-day safety must not be sidelined, as poor maintenance may be a contributing factor in major incidents.
During inspections made between July 2007 and March 2010, HSE found that the physical condition of installations varied significantly from good to poor when looking at companies' maintenance management systems for non-safety critical elements such as walkways and stairways; piping and pipe supports; cable trays and valves.
It also showed a broad range of company attitudes towards improving and maintaining the physical condition of the rigs - some showed proactive commitment to refurbishing and upgrading, while others did not.
When the project began in 2007, few companies were using measurable criteria for external corrosion, but guidance and simple performance standards, produced by The Energy Institute, have been available since June 2008. Four companies who failed to adopt them, or provide equivalents, were served improvement notices during the inspection programme. These have since been complied with.
Said Steve Walker, Head of HSE's Offshore Division:
"The management of external corrosion to safety related plant and equipment offshore must not become the "poor relation" offshore. While we recognise the commitment of companies in preventing any failures that could lead to major incidents offshore, it is essential that they are not neglecting the general fabric of their installations.
"Offshore installations that progressively deteriorate and corrode, with hazardous walkways and poorly supported pipes or other infrastructure are not only putting workers at risk of serious injury, but in the event of a major incident can exacerbate the consequences. The report shows that the industry still has a way to go in this, and given the ageing nature of our offshore platforms this is not an issue that can be ignored.
"New guidance and performance standards are available for industry which make clear their responsibilities on external corrosion management. As always, we will not hesitate to take action against those operators who fail in their duty."
HSE is currently undertaking a further programme of external corrosion inspection to follow up on poor performers identified during the programme inspect those operators not visited during the first phase of the project, and to monitor whether the industry guidance is being implemented effectively.