Why is Safety Important in Offshore Operations?


Safety is often sacrificed when project managers want to cut down on costs and hasten operations or production.

After all, safety features on a platform design, production plant design, and equipment design means additional costs in building rigs, wells, and other structures for offshore operations. This includes smoke alarms, safety valves, fire proof or blast proof walls, life boats and so on.

Not to mention safety personnel are added in the total personnel under payroll. Personal Protective equipment or PPE such as special masks, helmets, harnesses and so on for every person on board and in particular places on the platform is another addition to the company budget’s costs.

Safety systems take time to develop. It takes time to study plans, effort and attention to finalize with the safety team. All before operations and production start.

So why are these safety features and personnel so important?

1. Safety saves lives and preserves health.

The main function of safety features and systems are to preserve personnel health and life. Specific tasks and workstations pose hazards and risks on the personnel assigned to them. Safety offers a barrier to these risks, giving personnel an added chance of survival when disaster strikes.

Production areas, refinery systems, and pipeline systems pose health risks that might not be immediate to a person. But small doses for a long period of time can cause health issues in the long run.

That is why there are plans and programs where personnel for particular workstations with hazards like that are scheduled and controlled so that the risks associated with it will be minimized.

But there are hazards that can be fatal with large amounts immediately.

When a pipe leaks, gas from inside this pipeline could be extremely hazardous. Hydrocarbons from wells contain a lethal gas called hydrogen sulfide (H2S) besides other harmful gases that could damage the respiratory system.

The Threshold Limit Value – Short Term Exposure Limit for H2S exposure is 10ppm. This means the value to which nearly all workers can be exposed to is up to four, 15 minute intervals per day without adverse health effects.

2. It lessens the severity of an injury and prevents damage to material assets. 

A safe behaviour and PPE is a person’s first line of defence when accidents happen. PPE lessens the force on someone upon impact of accidents such as a penetrating projectile, falling object, or someone falling from a great height.

In raised or elevated areas, people could fall. These heights can be fatal or maim a person from ever working again. If not, they could drop something from a great height that could seriously hurt the people below them and destroy equipment directly below.

Using a fall arrest system or commonly known as body harnesses, these accidents could be stopped completely or at least lessen the injury a person might get. Utility belts are used to hold items to keep a person’s hands free, lessening the risk of falling tools from such a height.

3. It helps secure barrels and barrels of produced hydrocarbons. 

Safety features in the design of offshore structures help prevent uncontrolled flow in wells, equipment and flowlines. This includes pressure gauges and safety valves.

BP, a well known oil and gas company, lost around 4.9 million barrels of crude oil in the 2010 Deepwater Horizon explosion and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. A number of safety protocol violations and safety feature failures during operations led to the accident.

4. It helps preserve company reputation.

The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico is also known by many names: BP oil spill, BP oil disaster, Gulf of Mexico oil spill, or Macondo blowout.

It is considered to be the largest marine oil spill in the petroleum industry of U.S. history. A disaster film in 2016 called Deepwater Horizon based its story from this accident. For many, the image portrayed in the movie is the first thing that comes into mind when someone mentions BP’s infamous prospect.

After the oil spill, the company’s stock lost about 55%shareholder value from $59.48 a share to $27 a share. Although even when the share prices recovered, they never returned to pre-crisis values. It only hovered around $37 to $52 within four years succeeding the accident.

BP was also faced with lawsuits and has been temporarily banned from new contracts with the U.S. government following the oil spill. November 2012, BP agreed to four years of government monitoring of its safety practices and ethics.

5. It helps control damage on the environment.

Safety structures and features like valves and water treatment lines help control the discharge water’s toxicity level.

Programs to conserve marine life are also being done in compensation of offshore operations. Some companies take part in maritime research for biodiversity. Maersk Oil Qatar and the MOE collaborated in the Qatar Whale Shark Research Project in 2013.

6. It saves more money in the end. 

Safety may cost big money in initial investments. But they can greatly help in minimizing monetary costs after accidents occur.

After the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil spill, BP was expected to lose more than $60 billion before tax impact was factored out. By 2013, the oil spill cost the company around $42 billion.

Cost of an oil spill accident includes, clean-up operation expenses, well-sealing expenses, environmental law fines, lawsuits, family settlements of casualties, and many other expenses.

The Macondo prospect had an estimated 50million barrels in place. Oil prices at the time were around $70-$78/barrel. But due to overlooked standard procedures, unwillingness to invest on enough safety systems and features, and wanting to hasten production operations, BP ended up losing their supposed profit and lost money instead.

Sacrificing safety and neglecting safety protocols to lessen expenses and hasten production may not be such a good idea in the end.

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