Safe and injury-free operations in the oil and gas industry are crucial to the smooth performance of oil and gas assets and to keeping staff unharmed. Safety, maintenance and inspection are the three crucial and interrelated aspects of reducing work and environmental hazards in the sector which provides much of the world’s energy supply.
Proper maintenance and inspection of oil and gas infrastructure enhance safety and can prevent injuries or spills. Optimised maintenance could improve accident hazard management, save lives, and reduce operational costs.
In offshore oil and gas operations, health and safety are crucial aspects to process and people safety in a sector often associated with major accidents.
The UKCS in particular continues to improve its safety record in recent years, according to the 2018 Oil & Gas UK Health & Safety Report—the latest industry report on the issue published in October 2018 with data up to 2017.
The report showed that there were no work-related fatalities in 2017 and the three-year rolling average non-fatal injury rate continued to decline. This is measured on the number of over-seven-day and specified injuries. Of reportable injuries, fractures were the most common type, followed by strains and sprains. Slips, trips, and falls were the most common causes of injury reported across the UKCS in 2017, Oil & Gas UK said.
In 2017, offshore helicopter operations across the UKCS were completed without accident, according to the report. In terms of process safety on the UKCS oil and gas assets, the number of reportable incidents continued its downward trend, and with 255 such incidents in 2017, the number was the lowest on record, the report said. The reportable incidents in 2017 dropped by 67 percent compared to 2000-2001. The single largest category of reportable incidents was oil and gas releases, with 39 percent of the total, followed by dropped objects with 26 percent.
Major hydrocarbon releases have been reduced since 2012, but have plateaued at around 2 per year in the past few years, the report notes.
“From a safety perspective, 2017 saw continuing improvement in personal and process safety, where the numbers of reportable injuries continued to fall along with another consecutive year of record-low numbers of reportable incidents, 67 per cent lower than in 2001,” said Trevor Stapleton, Health and Safety Manager, Oil & Gas UK.
“Concerted industry action to reduce hydrocarbon releases since 2000, together with the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) Key Programme initiatives, has resulted in a continued decrease. This reduction has been supported by the focus on reducing safety-critical maintenance backlog, which continued to deliver improvements in installation average backlog in 2017,” Stapleton noted.
To keep people and process safety, the oil and gas industry continuously invests in inspection and maintenance of facilities, rigs, and pipelines.
Especially in conditions that are harsh for people, such as extreme colds or hazard offshore locations, the oil and gas sector has been increasingly adopting the use of drones and robots for inspection in order to minimize the hazards for people.
In offshore environments, the use of autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) and remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) is growing.
According to the World AUV Market Forecast 2018-2022 by Westwood Global Energy Group, global AUV demand is set to increase by 37 percent through 2022, and the military sector will account for 70 percent of the market. However, the commercial sector will grow the most, by 74 percent, as the oil and gas industry continues to adopt AUVs.
Oil and gas operations are set to embrace the use of more AUVs as drilling and production continues to move into deeper waters, Westwood reckons.
Subsea-hosted AUVs are set to lead to more cost-effective inspections and interventions of subsea infrastructure than an ROV or surface vessel carrying out the work, according to Westwood. Demand for other applications of AUVs in the oil and gas sector—including pipeline survey, oil/gas site survey, pipeline inspection, rig move/hazard survey, and life of field inspection—is also expected to rise through 2022, Westwood says.
By Tsvetana Paraskova