| Written by Mark Buzinkay
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While all industries should observe workplace safety, it becomes even more essential if you're involved in the offshore sector. Since drilling activities began, the record of oil rig disasters is proof of the higher risks involved in offshore oil & gas.
Despite safety being a top priority in the offshore industry, operations and profits are legitimate targets. Therefore, boosting safety and productivity needs to be a top priority. Consequently, governmental bodies implement installations' safety standards and regulations to try and reduce the hazards and risks while stepping up productivity in offshore oil & gas exploration.
There are dozens of general rules & ideas for safe offshore operations. We covered many safety tips in numerous posts in the past (see below for related articles). Let's mention two of them again because they can be applied to all industries and a very effective in reducing accidents.
Wear protective safety gear
Like other physically demanding jobs, offshore personnel must always wear protective gear. Having the right equipment is mandatory to protect your body from the harsh temperatures and chemicals often found on platforms. Personal protective equipment (PPE) includes eye protection, hearing loss prevention, respiratory safeguard, hard hat, fire-resistant clothing, fall precaution, extreme temperature, gloves and steel-toed boots and are essential for every operation. They not only help to prevent serious injury but also protect your productivity. Unfortunately, it is easy to forget to replace safety gear regularly to ensure it's always in excellent condition.
Always follow safety standards
Safety begins with the mindset that managers uphold first so the workers and even subcontractors can follow. At the managerial level, this mindset embodies itself as risk analysis and strategy review, but at the worker level, it is the attitude and behaviour that changes. Strictly enforcing safety rules ensures the crew will remain watchful while performing tasks. In addition, workers can easily contribute to identifying aspects that are considered hazardous. When everyone adopts safe offshore practices, the safety of personnel is almost guaranteed, and so is their productivity.
Procedures must be followed each day - from supervisors and engineers to teams; each team member must fully embed new safety practices into their daily habits and hold each other accountable. Everyone must participate. Otherwise, new safety management systems to reduce hazards won't significantly impact.
Even regular safety meetings in the form of weekly or monthly interactive team discussions are necessary to create a culture of caring and protection among team members. In addition, the constant exposure to safety reminders will change workers' attitudes and behaviour, reducing human error-driven accidents.
In offshore oil & gas, the reality is that it only takes one mindless moment to cause safety hazards for an entire team. Fatiguing routine is a veritable danger, and vigilance must be a vital part of your team's culture. From completing comprehensive risk assessments and documenting all near misses to taking note of all potential hazards, safety must always be on the mind, even during stressful shifts or when your team is fighting fatigue. Therefore, a safety culture is a top priority in every organisation.
Another additional set of measures to create a safe offshore environment has a cost-efficient impact. Have a quick look at them:
Maintaining tools and equipment
Offshore equipment needs to be well-maintained at all times. This is essential, as saltwater, wind and sun will slowly compromise the functioning of moving parts over time and lead to halted operations and missing operative targets. Integrity check of all equipment, including sensors and detectors, is mandatory to prevent premature failures. Replacing parts extends the life span of machinery and guarantees safe function during operations.
Further reading: Offshore safety equipment
Proactive measures in place will help to keep offshore equipment operational. For instance, valves, cranes, ventilation gadgets and drill rigs will work when maintenance and other scheduled upkeep are correctly done. The crew will be in control when operating at the platform, thereby preventing any avoidable incidents and prolonging the life of machinery and tools. A systematic Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) should be planned and organised to bypass unexpected breakdowns that have devastating financial consequences.
Clean and orderly housekeeping should be the usual culture of every offshore oil rig safety due to the high rate of accidents caused by small tools left on the floor or fluids that make floors slippery, or even objects falling from above. Therefore, all work areas and pathways should be clear to prevent trips, slips and falls, not to mention being struck by things.
Get professional training and counselling
The better your skills, the better for the safety of the crew. Training should be an ongoing process for offshore drilling rig safety, regardless of your experience. Refresher courses focus on learning new techniques to boost workplace productivity without compromising safety. The theory and practical aspects are essential for staying safe and are taught during these safety training courses.
Shortages of trained personnel can have a considerable effect on the safety of a project team, causing incidents due to the competence and lack of training/experience of the workforce.
To be at their best, the offshore crew needs to be in a mental and emotional state and a physical one. Therefore, offshore oil & gas companies should be willing to pay for resources such as counselling to keep their teams healthy and work at top productivity.
(Continue reading about Emergency Response Management)
To achieve sustainable profitability, companies need to embrace digitalisation fully. This will help optimise performance and reduce risks while minimising environmental impact. Digitalisation means significant changes, and these are never easy. However, providing companies can overcome the current hurdles, substantial upsides exist. The offshore industry has made several moves towards digitisation and will bring rig safety to the next level.
Data analytics, intelligence and critical controls
In general, data can lead to insight when understood. Artificial intelligence turns large amounts of data into knowledge and potentially probability indicators for catastrophic events. Geological modelling, on-the-day scheduling, and predictive maintenance are increasingly in data analytics and intelligence.
Similarly, critical controls contribute to preventing fatal and catastrophic events from occurring. Automated data and smart algorithms deliver such checks and increase safety measures. In addition, predictive models, based on the right data, can prevent incidents before they occur to avoid harm and keep operations smooth. Finally, cloud-based technologies drive collaboration, enabling people and machines to work together in real-time.
Wearables and data sources
Platforms and FPSOs can be an installation as complex as a maze. Using wearables, crew members actively contribute to a more accurate and consistent picture of what is happening on site. Embedding vast numbers of readers in public rooms and hallways is combined with mobile and wearable devices, such as tablets and transponders on helmets, creating the link in the end-to-end data flow. As a result, decision-makers get these relevant data in real-time when they need it most.
Wearables are not only used in the medical field but can be used in offshore workplaces as well. When personnel are in the field, simple digital devices like transponders and gas monitors can gather geotargeted information to alert any potential threats. A real-time safety net replaces disjointed, ad-hoc barriers as these sensors transmit data to managers about hazardous conditions and the physical condition of the workers themselves, improving safety outcomes. Even more, wearables tell about the whereabouts of personnel within the platform. As a result, it is much easier to account for and locate crew in case of an emergency mustering (What is e-mustering?). As a result, offshore operations have become much smoother and more productive than ever before.
Apps can be a powerful driver to change behaviour. In a typical case, an app reminds drivers of what they need to focus on or on an offshore platform and what workers need to be focused on during hot work. In this sense, an app can help train and educate personnel to help them prepare for a task.
Automation and drones
The fewer humans, the fewer chances of injuries and fatalities. Therefore, automation can be a game-changer in workplace safety. Remote and wireless remote controls help prevent humans from being in a dangerous place and conducting their work from a safe distance. To stay out of harm's way is a good strategy. A high level of automation also means that processes run more smoothly. An automated plant can operate with fewer people on-site, mainly if they are backed up by experts in remote centres of excellence that can be called upon when abnormal situations arise.
A variant of remotely controlled machines is drones or autonomous vehicles. Drones not only scan the (underwater) area from perspectives that are dangerous and near-inaccessible to humans, but they also instantaneously communicate any information they pick up. This makes for more rapid and detailed analysis of the installation and seabed without deploying personnel into an inherently hazardous environment or affecting production by operations.
Safety hazards in the offshore industry may be more prevalent than in any other work environment. However, proactive measures safeguard crew and productive operations. Although your goal is to make as much profit as possible, this shouldn't be at your health and safety expense. With this peace of mind, offshore safety is possible without hurting your productivity. Digital technologies such as wearables can help you achieve both in a big way.