Emergency situations on offshore installations can have devastating effects as seen in the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988. Offshore installations in the North Sea can be situated more than 100 miles from the coast and it is therefore imperative that personnel have the ability and facilities to deal with an emergency on their own. The offshore installation manager (OIM) is responsible for handling an incident which is likely to be characterised by time pressure, high risk, ambiguous information, unclear goals, and constantly changing conditions. To help the OIM, standard operating procedures (SOPs) have been introduced by the operating companies, which provide a set of rules to apply in a given crisis. At present there is a trend towards creating SOPs for every predictable offshore crisis. A constant increase in the number of procedures, generated to cover every eventuality, may obviate the need for OIM decision making but also create a problem if a novel emergency is encountered. Moreover, there may be dangers associated with too great a reliance on SOPs as they may become hard and fast rules that must be followed blindly. It is therefore of interest to identify how SOPs are utilised and what knowledge underpins their use. This research is based on interviews with 10 experienced OlMs on UKCS platforms from one major operator. It suggests that experienced OlMs have a repertoire of standard responses which they can apply in a crisis. This intimate knowledge of the emergency procedures has been developed through regular exercises, onshore simulator training, and involvement in the maintenance and improvement of the safety management systems on their installations. That is, decision making in offshore emergencies appears to be based on sound foundations, not on blind application of rules. A comparison is drawn between the decision making of the OIM and that of other emergency commanders, with particular reference to current theories of naturalistic decision making. Implications for OIM training are discussed.

You can access this article if you purchase or spend a download.