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Piper Alpha - 30 years on

Whilst we have safety systems, and platforms follow a very different design philosophy these days (new platforms that is), the major contributor to accidents still has not changed...humans.

I have been working with psychologists and subject matter experts to look at the real issue; People do stupid things. The worrying thing is that the oil and gas industry have shown little interest. All we hear is "But we have systems in place...."

The biggest lesson from Piper A was that peoples failings were to blame. Failure to communicate, failure to follow process, failure to act when they saw systems were not working and failure of managers to recognise a culture of fear whereby people were scared to act on their own initiative.
I spent most of a 20-year career offshore trying to encourage the industry to follow the lead of aviation, and latterly rail transport, in providing staff with an independent, confidential human- and operational-factors reporting system, to be told (by Step Change In Safety) that the industry has sufficient procedures in place to negate the need for such practices. Then, post-Macondo, the US regulatory authority put one in place for their offshore industry "SafeOCS".
 

Yokel

LE
The Survival course at South Shields Maritime college used to simulate a storm at night when doing the heli escape. The lights would go out, hoses would pummel us with directed jets of water and the wave machine made it feel like a gale force 8 wind had enraged the North Sea.

When I did a recent refresher, a mill pond could not have been calmer; and of course the North Sea (Northern or Southern) often resembles a mill pond!

Ridiculous!

That would be fine as an initial introduction to learn and practice if then followed up with a more realistic simulation.

Rather ironically, I was at one of the major offshore training facilities in Aberdeen this morning filming a new under water exercise for the OPITO Basic Offshore Survival Induction and Emergency Training course which is mandatory for all offshore workers. It also must be refreshed every 3 years.

I was an apprentice at Shell in the training department when Piper A happened. The next day at work I remember it being a strange and brooding atmosphere.

Later I worked for a safety consultancy who were employed by Elf (the people that took over the Piper field after Occidental high tailed it out of the North Sea) to investigate the issues of Piper A and to help design Piper B.

Elf also high tailed it out of the North Sea when serious safety flaws were discovered in Piper B and the safety systems in place.

I then headed up training teams for two software companies who developed Integrated Safe Systems of Work (ISSoW) as a direct result of Piper. Basically, its an electronic version of the Permit to Work. The companies developed them and my team developed the training for them.

My role now is heading up a team of Instructional Designers who predominately look at and write safety critical training courses for the oil and gas industry. We get inside Permit to Work systems, ISSOW systems, all sorts and work closely with OPITO on various survival training and other mandatory courses

Whilst we have safety systems, and platforms follow a very different design philosophy these days (new platforms that is), the major contributor to accidents still has not changed...humans.

I have been working with psychologists and subject matter experts to look at the real issue; People do stupid things. The worrying thing is that the oil and gas industry have shown little interest. All we hear is "But we have systems in place...."

The biggest lesson from Piper A was that peoples failings were to blame. Failure to communicate, failure to follow process, failure to act when they saw systems were not working and failure of managers to recognise a culture of fear whereby people were scared to act on their own initiative.

We had control room operators on several platforms looking out windows towards an inferno, too scared of the repercussions of closing down production and stopping the significant flow of gas and oil to the fire.

In addition, the fire fighting system had been effectively "switched off" as they had divers in the water at the time. Normally it is in auto mode to suck sea water up via diesel pumps, and distribute it to the fire fighting system. The pumps had been put on "manual" mode at the OIMs request. As the control room was destroyed in the initial blast, the fire fighting system could not be operated. That order for Manual Mode was a decision from the Offshore Installation Manager in direct defiance of an audit several weeks earlier.

The Cullen report is damming of management and of decisions taken on the day. It makes very sober reading.

The Wiki account is a condensed version and accurate.
Piper Alpha - Wikipedia

Is the Cullen report on the web?
 

FORMER_FYRDMAN

LE
Book Reviewer
I've met, and corresponded at length with Lord Cullen on offshore (and onshore) safety over the past twenty years or so, and I have the greatest admiration for his tenacity at getting to the heart of Piper Alpha. A copy of his Enquiry is on my bookshelf. I was on my Pilot's Course at MW, and the challenges faced by the aircrews in extracting casualties and survivors was sobering.

Your Avatar is the type of lifeboat I worked on fitting the pipework for the water showers.
 
We’re looking with hindsight and shouldn’t forget the reality on the ground that created a truly toxic employment culture in the North Sea back then.

High unemployment ashore, plus deregulation plus the government backed UK drive for oil revenues.

The money offshore was mega, But rock the boat, spoke out of turn, next helicopter off and a blacklist. It was a bonanza - in a Wild West without Sheriffs.
 
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The money offshore was mega, But rock the boat, spoke out of turn, next helicopter off and a blacklist. It was a bonanza - in a the Wild West without Sheriffs.


That is quite brilliant decsription of the time. I did Radiography (NDT) off shore from 2006 by which time the PTW sysytem had been finely tuned and I don`t think I EVER had an unauthorised incursion into the `barriered off` area. I don`t think it was because of a fear of radiation (amazing even today that people are still frightened of that word) but simply that safety briefs and the punishments for ignoring the briefs are swift and final!
 

mannerspunky

Swinger
Today i flew out to a new job offshore in the north sea , having spent many years working worldwide in various locations of various safety standards. It was and is a wake up call for the oil and gas industry and should rightfully used as an example for all enviroments where profit is put before safety.
A special safety meeting was held and the men remembered.... They didn't go to war, they just went to work.
This film is highly recommended, please have a view if you can


Stay safe everyone, wherever and whatever you do

Sent from my H8216 using Tapatalk
 

ericferret

War Hero
Talking to a friend yesterday who remembers Piper Alpha well.
He was a driller on a jackup that had just up-anchored when it all went wrong.
They could see the fire from their location.
They were told to drop anchor again and and launch all their boats.
The boats returned late on with a number of bodies but sadly no survivors.

He mentions one survivor who's boots were starting to melt. He jumped into
the dark, missing all the steelwork on the way down, and was swept clear of the platform.
 
On Linked in today one of my contacts had written a post for his Dad who died on the rig. Its title was "Is my Dad in bed". He went on to say how his Dad in those days did one week on, one week off. The first the family heard about it was when his Grandad called to say he had seen a report on Ceefax. The author went to bed and in the morning asked if his Dad was in bed as whenever there had been incidents before they came home. The sheer pain of his Mum having to tell him that he wasnt coming home. His Dad was only 39
My Uncle at the same time worked on one of the other rigs and i remember my Dad waiting for news
 
Gen question - on oil rigs, is the fire fighting priority to save life regardless?
I'm thinking of warships where the "close the hatch to save the ship" doctrine is a consideration.
 
A couple of interesting pics here, HMS Phoebe was on her way back to Pompey as part of a NATO squadron when it occurred. HMS PHOEBE FIGHTING 42

I know a lad who was on the Phoebe at that time. From what I gather- they installed a few fire fighting teams / equipment etc.
 
Gen question - on oil rigs, is the fire fighting priority to save life regardless?
I'm thinking of warships where the "close the hatch to save the ship" doctrine is a consideration.

Its insured, get off if you can’t contain it.
The problem was, the technology to fight fires and get us off hadn’t caught up with the massive fires. Open lifeboats were still the norm, utterly useless if the cargoes escaped.
 

Rab_C

War Hero
I know a lad who was on the Phoebe at that time. From what I gather- they installed a few fire fighting teams / equipment etc.
I joined 2 days later. Phoebe was ready to offer assistance as was the whole NATO squadron but there was nothing they could do. They spent some time searching from the ship and helo but all they found was debris. I seem to remember the lads being offered large sums of money for undeveloped rolls of film by journos.
 

2/51

LE
Is the Cullen report on the web?

I think its still on the "30 year closure" list. Certainl says this ion the National Archive site. We have a copy because we work closely with the HSE/Government on improving safety training in the North Sea (Fecking hard work!!).

It spawned a fair few new regulations such as The Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations and all the underpinning regs associated with it.

However, we still come across operators that seem to have forgotten the whole incident.
 

Yokel

LE
I was at primary school when it happened, but what got my interest was when I was a student (Electronic Engineering) home from Uni for the weekend when the BBC showed a documentary, Spiral To Disaster, about it, the first of a series. It was narrated by John Nettles as part of a series called Disaster.

One of the things that struck me was the way various small failing came together with catastrophic consequences. It was the same with all the disasters mentioned in the series.

I wonder did it contribute to the development of the Swiss Cheese model?

Swiss cheese model - Wikipedia

Or see this PDF.
 
There was another disaster earlier in the North Sea.
In 1980 a rig that was being used as accommodation sunk after a leg snapped off.
The casualties were not as great as Piper but were still bad.

In driving rain and mist, early in the evening of 27 March 1980 more than 200 men were off duty in the accommodation on Alexander L. Kielland. The wind was gusting to 40 knots (74 km/h) with waves up to 12 m high. The rig had just been winched away from the Edda production platform.
Minutes before 18:30, those on board felt a 'sharp crack' followed by 'some kind of trembling'. Suddenly the rig heeled over 30° and then stabilised. Five of the six anchor cables had broken, the one remaining cable preventing the rig from capsizing. The list continued to increase and at 18:53, the remaining anchor cable snapped and the rig capsized.
130 men were in the mess hall and the cinema. The rig had seven 50-man lifeboats and twenty 20-man rafts. Four lifeboats were launched, but only one managed to release from the lowering cables. (A safety device did not allow release until the strain was removed from the cables.) A fifth lifeboat came adrift and surfaced upside down; its occupants righted it and gathered 19 men from the water. Two of Kielland's rafts were detached and three men were rescued from them. Two 12-man rafts were thrown from Edda and rescued 13 survivors. Seven men were taken from the sea by supply boats and seven swam to Edda.
No one was rescued by the standby vessel, which took an hour to reach the scene. Of the 212 people aboard 123 were killed, making it the worst disaster in Norwegian offshore history since World War II. Most of the workers were from Rogaland.
 

2/51

LE
Gen question - on oil rigs, is the fire fighting priority to save life regardless?
I'm thinking of warships where the "close the hatch to save the ship" doctrine is a consideration.

Don't forget, an oil or gas production facility is different to a drilling rig. One lot floats, one lot doesn't.

A drilling rig is normally a jack up or semi submersible that is floated to a location and then either puts down its jack up legs or is tethered by buoys and anchors. You also have drilling ships that are held on station by thrusters and GPS. All these can "sink" and in several cases such as the semi-submersible platform, Alexander L. Kielland that capsized in high seas killing 123, or any one of the 30 or so major incidents involving the lost of 50 + people in each that we don't hear about because they were "brown people" operating in waters that we seem to just not care about :(

A production installation such as Piper A is fixed to the sea bed by permanent legs. These can't sink (by theory).

All platorms have passive and active fire detection and fighting systems onboard that are normally set to be automatic. The design of platforms means that only the minimum number of personnel are in a dangerous area at any one time. The Temporary refuges and Accommodation block are heavily protected by deluge systems.

The HSE has very clear guidance for the operators, which is that personnel come before assets...but due to the very nature of the dangers involved, without an asset, you don't have personnel.
 

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