| Written by Mark Buzinkay
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Working on an offshore installation, floating production site (FPSO), or a wind farm is a hazardous occupation. The environment is harsh, the working conditions stressful, and the shifts long. Personnel stays on board for weeks, sometimes for months. Incidents are common, despite training, best practices and regulations. According to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement (US), six workers died in offshore-related accidents in 2020, and 160 were injured. But sources claim that these figures don't show the entire truth: many incidents would not be reported or categorised as non-work related (source):
Offshore incidents happen fast and are unforeseen for many different reasons. Some of them include:
Offshore workplaces are hazardous, and safety is always in danger. Consequently, management, government and stakeholders like the unions enforce various measures to maximise safety offshore.
Let's have first a quick overview of offshore safety equipment.
Personnel safety equipment
The personnel safety equipment consists of the personnel protective equipment (PPE) for activities during work and the personnel safety equipment, which is reserved for emergencies. For offshore oil & gas installations, the typical set of PPE includes safety footwear, flame retardant coveralls, gloves, helmets, eye protection and ear defenders. Depending on the climate zone, additional layers of clothing may be necessary to limit exposure to wind and cold and wet elements.
Particular work tasks require additional protection. For example, working in water or being in danger of falling into water requires immersion suits. Such suits should comply with SOLAS and USCG regulations and provide thermal protection, flame retardancy and a good, ergonomic fit for freedom of movement. Key features include high visibility colours, extended zippers for minimal water ingress, and reinforced anti-slip soles for durability and safety. Personal fire fighting equipment includes fire helmets, harnesses, fire fighting clothing, boots, and tools.
In case of emergencies leading to an evacuation of the offshore installation, additional equipment is needed. For example, lifejackets and rescue lights are necessary, sometimes combined with immersion suits (depending on the climate).
Lifeboats and rescue boats
When it comes to MOB or evacuations of offshore installations, lifeboats and rescue boats are the most crucial equipment. Therefore, lifeboats and rescue boats must comply with IMO standards, including their launching appliances. Lifeboats are small boats kept aboard a ship to carry out emergency abandonment in case of mishaps such as man overboard. They primarily function as a device for swift and effective evacuation of people in distress from the ship and then aid them to a safe location.
Each lifeboat holds three litres of water and a food ration with an energy value of at least 10,000 kJ (2390 Calories) for each person the lifeboat is designed to hold, packed in airtight and waterproof packaging. Liferafts are the less complex and cheaper version of a lifeboat. A liferaft is thrown overboard from up to 60m and can capacity up to 50 persons.
So-called evacuation systems don't need a launching appliance as they are part of the entire system. Such a system is deployed from up to 40m height and stabilises at the water line before the crew boards the craft.
Depending on the used evacuation system, equipment like fire extinguishers, buckets, flares, smoke floats, sea anchors, compass, radio communication, radar reflector, air horn, searchlight, rescue coils and lifebuoys, first aid kit, thermal blankets and a set of tools (including a jackknife) are part of the package. Additional immersion suits and lifejackets may be provided.
Besides that, an offshore installation has a complex safety and monitoring technology system to keep things under control. So what could get wrong? First, there is a missing gap: the real-time position of your crew in case of an emergency. Because everyone needs to arrive at their mustering station in time for the lifeboat or raft to be launched, time and position are critical.
RFID transponders are a tracking system that uses radiofrequency to search, identify, track, and communicate with items and people. Essentially, transponders are smart devices that can store and send a range of information from ID numbers to an extensive amount of data. An RFID transponder is typically designed to catch a radio signal from another device and return the desired response. The transponder is known as a tag, and the device that communicates with it is called a reader. RFID tags are usually identified by their radio frequencies: low frequency (LF), high frequency (HF), and ultra-high frequency (UHF). The specific frequency will determine the range and strength of the signal. There are three main types of RFID transponders: passive, semi-passive and active transponders. The main difference between these types is that some can operate without a battery, while others require an internal power source.
Radiofrequency identification (RFID) can be used for various purposes, including supply chain management, collecting road tolls, theme park attendance, constant medical monitoring, RTLS in smart factories and personal visibility.
One benefit of transponders is that they can be read indirectly without physical or even visual contact. Both readers and tags use radio signals, which are generally limited by distance rather than a line of sight. A reader device will typically send an interrogation signal to which any tag in a range can receive, process, and reply.
(Continue reading about Emergency Response Management)
In an emergency, crews are instructed to muster at specific locations and be ready to board their lifeboats or rafts. As the most recent rig disasters showed, mustering is a challenging process. In a stressful situation, humans tend to act irrationally and worsen the situation. As many offshore installations still rely on a paper and phone-based muster system to account for crew and visitors aboard the rig at any time, the evacuation process will be slow, prone to human errors and inaccurate.
The total count method is time-consuming, and the T-card system is simple in theory but not reliable: If the crew can't reach their assigned muster point, it won't work. But reliability is what counts in an evacuation process. So the goal is a reliable system that provides complete, timely and accurate muster.
Ease-of-use is an additional criterion for an automatic muster system, allowing new crew members to utilise it within minutes of being on board if necessary. In addition, such a system should quickly communicate the needed information in an understandable form to the command team on the bridge of the vessel or to the rescue operation team onshore and the muster takers at the individual muster locations.
An RFID mustering solution handles an evacuation reliably. The personal tag allows to quickly identify and account individuals at one of several muster points throughout the rig, based on the emergency and where the person is located at the moment of the incident. In addition, it records the last position and direction of an individual crew member.
One of the critical features of a transponder-based mustering solution is to quickly communicate required information to the command team on the bridge in an understandable form. In addition, it allows for easy tracking of each muster site and makes real-time updates available to immediately identify the individuals that have not mustered on the master screen.
In short, a transponder-based electronic mustering process offers a critically faster, more efficient, and more reliable way to watch over your people than the previously used methods. In addition, it provides real-time insight and better visibility of where people are located, empowering people in charge to make better-informed decisions. Such a system increases your QHSE offshore standards significantly.
Safety on offshore installations is a top priority. Safety regulations and standards will keep incidents at bay, but risks persist. In emergency evacuations, processes and equipment are in place to save lives. Transponders help fill a gap in the mustering process, transmitting critical information to commanding personnel about the whereabouts of every crew member. Collaborative, real-time data is available from anywhere, resulting in greater visibility for everyone involved. This accuracy and accessibility to location and headcount could mean the difference in several lives when presented with a real emergency.
Are you interested in deploying an automated mustering solution? Meet Crew Companion.