Deepwater Horizon oil rig in Gulf of Mexico

Fewer potential oil and gas blasts � Health and Safety Executive

The UK’s Health and Safety Executive says there have been less major offshore oil and gas leaks reported in the past year.

Health and Safety Executive data shows 73 “hydrocarbon releases” deemed either major or significant were recorded in 2010-11, compared with 85 the previous year and 61 in 2008-09. The number of major injuries was down eight to 42, from 50 the previous year.

For the fourth year running, no workers were killed during offshore activities regulated by HSE between April 1 2010 and March 31 2011, the period covered by the figures from the Offshore Safety Statistics Bulletin. However, a joint HSE and police investigation is taking place into the death of a man who fell into the North Sea from an oil platform on June 16.

HSE head of offshore safety Steve Walker said the new figures represent “a step in the right direction”.

“It is encouraging that this is the fourth consecutive year with no reportable fatalities and a reduction in major injuries. But there is still much work to be done. Hydrocarbon releases are a key indicator of how well the offshore industry is managing its major accident risks, and the industry still hasn’t matched or exceeded the record lows of two years ago,” Walker said.

“The Gulf of Mexico disaster should continue to be a stark reminder of what can go wrong offshore.”

Walker said HSE would “remain tough on companies that fail to protect their workforce by not investing in the fabric and workings of their installations or neglecting to implement effective management systems or workforce training”.

A total of 432 “dangerous occurrences” were reported, 11 fewer than in the previous year. Almost four-fifths of these incidents (38.9 per cent) were hydrocarbon releases which if ignited can be precursors to major incidents such as a fire or explosion. One in four (25.9 per cent) dangerous occurrences involved failed equipment.

In the same period, four fewer workers sustained minor injuries which led to three or more days off work, at 106 compared with the previous year’s 110 total.

The main cause of major injuries was slips/trips/falls (16), being trapped or struck by moving objects (15) or injuries from lifts/pulls/pushes/swinging of loads (4).

An estimated 27,660 people worked offshore in 2010-11, up 3.99 per cent on the previous year.

Oil & Gas UK, which represents the UK industry, said: “The oil and gas industry welcomes the publication of the HSE’s offshore safety statistics which reflect the significant effort made in the last 12 months to get back on track after last year’s disappointing performance.

“The reduction in the number of hydrocarbon releases is a move in the right direction, as this remains a top priority and a key focus of the industry’s absolute commitment to continuously improving process safety standards.

“Last year the UK offshore industry’s safety initiative, Step Change In Safety, agreed with all its member companies to redouble efforts to reduce the number of reportable leaks by 50 per cent over three years. These statistics show that progress towards the target has begun.”

Tim Ingram, chairman of the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health offshore group, said: “On the basis of these figures we simply can’t afford to be complacent. While any degree of reduction in hydrocarbon releases is good to see, fundamentally it's always concerning to see any that are deemed major or significant, as it is these that have the potential to cause injuries or fatalities.

“In light of the offshore industry’s Step Change targets for the next three years, if this reduction rate of hydrocarbon release incidents is maintained, we would still miss that 2014 goal by some distance.

“And working on the basis that accidents are preventable, the 42 major injuries are also concerning.”

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