Process safety management systems are widely credited with reductions in major accident risk for onshore operations. Yet although offshore oil and gas operations also have the potential for catastrophic disaster, process safety management systems offshore are not as mature. Over the past thirty years, the author has been involved in the application of offshore process safety. The paper will discuss the strengths and weaknesses observed, some common themes involving process safety management systems, and future approaches for continuous improvement.
Methods, Procedures, Process
Many of today's process safety practices are a result of lessons learned by industry after experiencing major accidents. Although certain process safety practices were in place prior to the Piper Alpha disaster, the incident paved the way for major changes to process safety in the UK and USA. Those process safety changes were mainly focused on: the Safety Case in the North Sea, and a voluntary Safety and Environmental Management Program in the Gulf of Mexico. More recently the Deepwater Horizon incident led to adoption of a mandatory Safety and Environmental Management System.
Results, Observations, Conclusions
Some aspects of the Safety Case approach (and its integral process safety practices) could be improved, but nevertheless, such an approach has led to a significant reduction in risk for North Sea operations. Performance has stagnated to some extent, but a number of initiatives are underway to drive continuous improvement. The Deepwater Horizon incident raised awareness that prevention of major accidents requires a specific focus on process safety management over and above that for conventional occupational safety—a lesson already learned by onshore process industries. Although there is a strong emphasis on personal safety within the drilling industry, it is not often balanced by an equal focus on process safety. Since process safety is not universally well understood offshore, there are opportunities to strengthen safety management systems. The author has personally witnessed weaknesses in various process safety elements, including asset integrity of safety critical equipment/ elements.
Despite improvements in risk reduction and recent regulatory changes, the industry must not become complacent and needs to maintain a sense of vulnerability. The next drivers for performance improvement are likely to include more pro-active leadership, use of leading metrics, and culture change that leads to greater workforce involvement and a 'beyond compliance' mentality. The magnitude of the culture change that will be needed to advance process safety management is significant, but it can be facilitated by strong leadership enforcing standards. The industry requires carefully selected metrics to provide early warning of low probability/high consequence process safety incidents. Above all else, the industry needs to recognize that good safety performance requires that hazards are identified, the associated risks are understood, and the risks are managed by "doing the right thing".