5 Safety and the environment

5.1 Safety issues

Safety and the environment have increasingly become matters of prime concern to the petroleum industry. Losses of life, particularly offshore, and large oil spillages increasingly raise outcries and make headline news. As with the mining industry, governments in many countries have legislated to ensure that companies conform to acceptable norms of conduct. This page deals with operational safety whereas more general environmental issues follow on the next page.

Following the fire on the North Sea Piper Alpha platform in 1988, which killed 167 people, the industry implemented safety improvements, most notably the Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations 1992, which changed the approach to management of safety worldwide. The regulations require the operator or owner of every fixed and mobile installation operating in UK waters to submit a safety case to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Safety cases are required at the design stage for fixed installations and cover all subsequent operations and decommissioning. The safety case gives full details of the arrangements for managing health and safety and controlling major accident hazards on the installation. It must demonstrate, for example, that safety management systems are in place, that risks are identified and reduced as reasonably practicable, and that there are provisions for safe evacuation and rescue.

In the UK, current safety legislation sets out the objectives that must be achieved, but allows flexibility in the choice of methods or equipment that may be used by companies to meet their statutory obligations. The HSE employs a team of inspectors who are responsible for enforcing the regulations; their work includes regular inspection visits to offshore installations and investigation of incidents. They have the authority to shut down an installation and prosecute if necessary.

Figure 12 shows the safety performance of the UK offshore petroleum industry between 1996/97 and 2003/04. The trend in the number of reported injuries resulting in more than 3 days sick leave (called ‘over-3-day injuries’) shows an encouraging decrease, but the trend in ‘combined fatal and major injuries’ is considered far from acceptable. In 2003/04 there were 3 fatalities and 48 major injuries among 18,793 workers, the main causes of which were handling, lifting and carrying. Whilst safety legislation and management commitment is clearly vital, the challenge of improving safety performance is largely met by workers feeling responsible for their own safety as well as that of their colleagues. In this sense employee commitment to safety is an attitude of mind rather than a taught discipline, although it can be enhanced by training and incentive schemes.

Figure 12: Frequency of all significant injuries (including fatalities) among workers in the British offshore petroleum industry. Note: The statistics are expressed by convention per 100 000, whereas no more than 20 000 people work in the industry.