A generation after a massive fire on the Piper Alpha platform claimed 167 lives in the North Sea, painting and other maintenance practices—and attitudes—on UK offshore installations are still falling short, the government reports.
Physical conditions on more than 90% of the installations inspected need improvement, some of it significant, concludes the UK Health and Safety Executive's “External Corrosion Management Inspection Project.”
The initiative involved in-depth inspections of 30 offshore installations over three years, examining everything from corporate culture to maintenance plans to physical conditions, to gauge the overall risk from external corrosion.
The project followed a prior three-year government Key Programme 3 (KP3) project, which found more than half of the installations in poor condition.
‘Lack of Regard’
The earlier project by HSE (the UK’s equivalent of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration) found “poor understanding” of the connection between poor maintenance and safety risks from degraded systems.
The physical conditions reflected “inadequate long-term planning” by operators and “lack of regard” for both the work environment and the injury risk to workers, HSE reported. “The poor condition of many platforms has increased the risks of injury to personnel from dropped objects, hand lacerations and falling through gratings.”
Photos: Health and Safety Executive
|The government reported included examples of bad (left) and good (right) corrosion maintenance practices.|
The goal of the new project was to determine whether operators had effective maintenance management systems in place for corrosion prevention and control on walkways, piping and pipe supports, flanges, valves and other components for both safety-critical and non-safety-critical applications.
What investigators found was a wide range of conditions, standards and corporate attitudes—and plenty of room for improvement. Ten Improvement Notices (safety citations) were served during the project.
Investigators scrutinized 30 installations and assigned a “traffic light” score for each of six areas.
|NON COMPLIANCE/ MAJOR FAILING
||ISOLATED FAILURE/ INCOMPLETE SYSTEM
||IN COMPLIANCE/ OK|
The areas studied were:
- Senior management/company culture;
- Performance indicators;
- Maintenance plans;
- Performance Standards;
- Offshore workforce awareness and participation; and
- Offshore physical condition.
Investigators also documented extensive examples of both good and bad practice.
Overall, the study found, 70% of dutyholders showed “scope for improvement” in the areas of company culture, performance indicators, maintenance plans and performance standards.
Offshore physical conditions fared even worse, “as over 90% of dutyholders need improvement, some needing to address significant issues,” HSE reported.
“The physical condition of installations visited varied significantly from good to poor,” the report said. “The project also witnessed a broad spectrum of dutyholder attitudes toward improving and maintaining the physical condition of the relevant plant and equipment types.”
While some operators showed “proactive commitment” to maintenance, others “showed insufficient commitment to addressing their situation.”
Of particular concern, HSE said, was the widespread use of “performance indicators” that looked exclusively at how plant and equipment were currently performing, rather than measuring their overall condition—a practice that “may actually disguise a progressive deterioration,” HSE noted.
Painting: The View from Onshore
Painting practices and programs also varied extensively. HSE noted that installations that interfaced with marine culture tended to place greater emphasis on continuous painting programs as part of their risk-based maintenance.
One operator said he considered the appearance of his installation “an important selling point to prospective clients.”
Operators may want to consider using percentage completion of painting programs as a key performance indicator of safety-related maintenance, HSE advised.
Few operators had targets or trends for safety-related plant and equipment, HSE said. One, however, had set 90% completion of annual painting as one of three safety-related targets.
The government applauded several operators for undertaking patch painting programs but said that the programs were generally not well executed, showing “evidence of poor surface preparation and coat application.”
“Dutyholders should recognize the need for adequate quality control measures for this type of work,” the government reported.
It highlighted continuous painting programs and the development of long-life coatings as good maintenance practices with significant safety implications.
Among other findings:
Senior Management/Company Culture. Installations with a “marine culture” tended to give appropriate priority to planned maintenance, as opposed to risk-based maintenance, HSE said. However, most operators took a risk-based approach, with little corporate documentation of safety-related plan and equipment issues.
Inspection/Maintenance Plans. Although many operators had inspection plans, “a number were not taking the appropriate action to rectify the anomalies from the inspections.” Moreover, only one operator had a long-term maintenance plan for his installation.
Performance Standards. Few quantitative standards existed for evaluating plant and equipment components. “Several dutyholders relied solely upon a subject acceptance decision,” HSE reported.
Workforce Awareness. Few operators were found to have active programs providing awareness information to the workforce on identifying external corrosion.
Inspections to Continue
Based on its findings, HSE said it would undertake a follow-up program for inspections.
The accident on board the offshore platform Piper Alpha in July 1988 killed 167 people and cost billions of dollars in property damage.
The catastrophe was caused by a massive fire, “which was not the result of an unpredictable ‘act of God’ but of an accumulation of errors and questionable decisions,” Stanford University researchers reported later. “Most of them were rooted in the organization, its structure, procedures and culture.”