Owners and managers of businesses are frequently called upon to make ‘tough decisions’, ‘justify expenditure’ and ‘cut costs’. Sometimes it can be difficult to do the right thing in the face of such conflicting pressures.
For instance, you may face criticism for spending money, while on the other hand you may even be accused of not spending enough – particularly when the decision involves the safety of others.
In this article Svein Thorsen, principal engineer at Statoil and Doug Woodbridge, head of sales and marketing at S3 ID Group, consider why investing in enhanced safety at an enormous Norwegian oil and gas field proved to offer clear business benefits.
Welcome to the North Sea
Located some 80 miles off the coast of Norway in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea, is a ‘trans-median’ oil and gas field. Crossing the Norwegian and UK North Sea boundary, some 15 percent of the field is located in UK Continental Shelf waters.
At its peak it was one of the largest fields in the sector, producing in excess of 700,000 barrels of oil per day. The oil is loaded offshore and taken directly to refineries, while the gas is transported via a pipeline to mainland Norway, and via another oil field to the UK.
Comprised of three production platforms – A, B and C – each is made up of circa 250,000 tonnes of concrete with circa 40,000 tonnes of ‘top-side’ processing, and with overall accommodation facilities for more than 1,000 people.
Business benefits of enhanced emergency preparedness
The harsh waters of the North Sea demand a leading edge, proactive approach to safety. It’s important to balance business needs with an overriding concern for personnel safety.
This being a substantial offshore infrastructure, a decision to make improvements – with the safety and welfare of personnel in mind – was taken in 2006, when work began to enhance emergency preparedness. One key aspect focused on a better way to register personnel in an evacuation situation and keep their Emergency Preparedness Management Team (EPMT) fully updated about an evacuation status in real-time.
It was realised, following careful evaluation of the conventional paper based systems, that while they worked, there was room for improvement, making a sound business case for adopting an Electronic Personnel Registration System (PRS). While musters could be achieved within 20 minutes in line with Norwegian legislation using conventional techniques, it was clear this could be challenging in a crisis.
Safety managers in this instance wanted to significantly improve on this – and the behaviour of people in a crisis – by removing, so far as possible, the human variable and risk of ‘human error’ from mustering.
Svein Thorsen said: “In the event of a crisis we wanted to ensure safety was not compromised through failing to properly account for personnel, so that the search for those missing could take place faster, and at the same time prevent the risk of unnecessarily sending rescue teams into a danger zone to find those incorrectly marked as missing through human error.
“An electronic PRS is not subject to human error under stress, which means you can rely on the data and counts you get in real time.”
It was also recognised that clear communication is critical in a crisis, and improving speed and accuracy of this can be a lifesaver.
In such situations the role of the radio operator takes on a new dimension. Radio traffic peaks as the crisis develops and the volume of information needed by the EPMT in coordinating the search and rescue activity grows exponentially.
It is, however, possible to have PRS carefully designed to reduce the burden on the radio operators, further mitigating the risk of the human error by streamlining communication, and making information directly available to the emergency teams across all platforms in real-time.
You might expect a world-class oil and gas company to have a ‘no injury – zero harm’ target, and it was with this aspiration at heart that Svein Thorsen said: “This safety focus underpins our entire business ethic. As one of our core values it requires us to be among the absolute frontrunners on safety, both on technical aspects and safe operations.
“We continually strive to create a safe workplace for all personnel, thus avoiding accidents and occupational illnesses.
“Besides a continuous focus on safety awareness, we ensure high technical standards and inherent safety in the design and operation of all our plants and installations.”
Accordingly, the business case for the PRS might have been satisfied on this basis alone. It was, however, also acknowledged that the PRS could provide further advantages in terms of achieving safer operations.
Saving time and cost
In the offshore oil and gas industry the old adage that ‘time is money’ is particularly true. In addition to providing clear advantages minimising the risk of human error and reducing muster times in a real crisis, it was seen that the PRS would also streamline muster drills, reducing?the time required to carry out these necessary exercises and allowing personnel to get back to work more rapidly, thereby reducing lost man-hours. A further benefit was that the PRS could significantly reduce time – and hence lost production costs – associated with getting production up and running again following an ‘emergency muster’, which would mandatorily require all personnel to be fully accounted for before production could resume. Manual paper based mustering techniques can be time consuming both to administer and when generating post-muster reports. An electronic PRS does this automatically, providing measurable benefits in this area, with a full history being stored and reports automatically generated at the touch of a button.
PRS options – what to look out for
With such high safety stakes to manage in the context of an oil rig, and given the exacting requirements of this environment, it’s important to choose the best technology to help streamline your mustering drills.
Essentially, a good PRS range should be about establishing ‘location awareness’ solutions for personnel and asset tracking, for personnel on board (POB), mustering, access control, safety and security through to travel logistics management.
Ranges have been developed to serve both the on-shore and offshore oil and gas industry.
In the oil and gas environment you will certainly want to source products that are ATEX certified. (Please see outline below). Systems have also been developed that provide an automated system to register personnel during a platform muster, using individual Radio Frequency
Identification (RFID) active transponder tags. These can be allocated to all your personnel.
Ideally the transponder should be certified ‘intrinsically safe, for use in hazardous areas’ and be worn at all times to ensure that personnel arriving at their designated muster station are detected as they pass through, or alternatively by the PRS muster station antennae.
Under normal operation, personnel can be issued with a transponder at the onshore heliport, providing a unique identification code for every individual who sets foot on the platform. Thus, when a muster is initiated this person is registered by the PRS whenever the transponder is detected at the designated muster station.
A number of PRS operator workstations can be located on each platform’s local area network, as well as the onshore heliport, and have access to PRS information screens.
It’s possible for an overview screen to show a summary of an active muster and a number of reports can be generated with current or historical data. In the event of an incident, for example, individual muster lists or incident duties can be made available via the PRS operator screen and on hardcopy reports.
A PRS of the kind described has been operational on the Norwegian platforms described above for more than three years. Safety managers there say it has been highly effective in addressing the risks and reducing the possibility of human error associated with previous paper based manual mustering techniques.
In fact, the system today is said to be an established part of everyday offshore life and is an integral part of the safety preparedness arrangements across the field, reassuring personnel that their wellbeing is a prime concern.
But what about the future of technology based mustering systems?
Technology based mustering systems have been successful and it is now widely accepted that human error can play a role in the effectiveness of paper based muster procedures, either through inaccurate recording or unclear lines of communications during an emergency.
The offshore sector, by the nature of the work and complexity of the operational areas, can be susceptible to these types of issues. Against this background, many businesses in the LNG sector are therefore taking the decision to invest in electronic mustering and location systems that overcome the limitations of paper based systems.
When designing our eMustering™ technology we use latest legislative requirements as the start point and can advise clients of the most effective way of ensuring compliance:
The National Fire Protection Association looks at the wider implications of offshore safety by introducing disaster and emergency management and business continuity programmes as part of a comprehensive Incident Management System. It develops, publishes and disseminates more than 300 consensus codes and standards intended to minimise the possibility and effects of fire and other risks. Log on to: www.nfpa.org
In a similar way to above, COMAH (Control of Major Accident Hazards provided by the Health and Safety Executive) requires that businesses “take all necessary measures to prevent major accidents involving dangerous substances, and limit the consequences to people and the environment of any major accidents which do occur.”
Log on to: www.hse.gov.uk/comah/guidance
The Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations put into effect requirements from two European Directives: the Chemical Agents Directive (98/24/EC) and the Explosive Atmospheres Directive (99/92/EC).
They also replaced a number of older regulations dealing with flammable substances safety.
DSEAR requires that arrangements must be made to deal with emergencies. These plans and procedures should cover safety drills and suitable communication and warning systems and should be in proportion to the risks.
DSEAR defines an explosive atmosphere as “a mixture of dangerous substances with air under atmospheric conditions, in the form of gases, vapours, mists and dusts in which, after ignition has occurred, combustion spreads through the entire unburned mixture.”
Explosive atmospheres can be present in all kinds of workplaces, from oil rigs and refineries to vehicle paint spraying and those handling fine organic dusts, such as grain or flour.
Log on to: www.dsear.org.uk ATEX Sets the minimum requirements for improving health and safety for the protection of workers potentially at risk from explosive atmospheres. 99/92/EC ATEX 137 covers health and safety protection of workers – a duty placed on the employer.
ATEX requires mitigation of the detrimental effects of an explosion, including emergency evacuation procedures and plans. On July 1, 2006, ATEX 137 became fully mandatory. All hazardous areas must now conform to this directive.
ATEX is derived from the French Atmosphères Explosibles, which describes the potentially explosive atmosphere that could be present when air is mixed with gases or combustible dusts.
ATEX is the name commonly given in Europe to the framework for controlling these explosive atmospheres and the equipment and protective systems used within them. It is based on the requirements of two European directives: the ATEX Equipment Directive, and the ATEX Workplace Directive.
In Britain, the requirements of the ATEX Workplace Directive are put into effect through DSEAR – the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations (see above).
Doug Woodbridge is Head of Group Sales and Marketing at S3 ID. In addition to marketing the company’s range of patented electronic location awareness, POB, mustering, security and personnel logistics solutions, Doug promotes the application expertise of S3 ID, which provides clients with expert consultancy and engineering services including evaluation, concept, FEED and EPIC.
S3 ID’s state of the art systems help save lives by enabling real-time location awareness of personnel, helping maintain safety and minimising the time for emergency evacuations and muster drills.
Svein Thorsen is one of the Principal Engineers at Statoil and is involved in telecoms across Statfjord A, B and C production platforms. He was involved in the implementation of the Electronic Personnel Registration Systems (PRS) from the initial stages through to installation and commissioning.
Svein has extensive experience in the oil and gas sector, working across both on-shore and offshore facilities. Statoil is an international energy company with operations in 40 countries. It has more than 35 years of experience from oil and gas production on the Norwegian continental shelf.
About S3 ID
S3 ID is an international company providing complete ‘location awareness’ solutions and is the manufacturer of the acclaimed S3 range of products spanning everything from personnel and asset tracking, personnel on board (POB), mustering, access control, safety and security to travel logistics management, shift rotation planning and bed management.
S3 ID is unique. The S3 range has been developed from first hand experience serving the on-shore and off-shore Oil & Gas industry. Products are ATEX certified and solutions use patented technology time proven in operation worldwide with many blue chip clients. S3 ID provides application expertise in this specialist market sector which is second to none.
For more information about S3 ID, call: +44 1709 538205 or email: [email protected]
Published: 10th May 2011 in Health and Safety Middle East