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Horizons article 07 July 2021

Making offshore safer: new ways of working to prevent major accidents

  • Offshore
  • Maritime rules and safety
  • Industry Viewpoint
Issue 58

How can verification evolve to provide more value in what is still an extremely hazardous industry?

The verification of offshore oil and gas assets against applicable codes, standards and regulations is a key process in safety regimes worldwide as it provides assurance that offshore installations can be expected to perform safely and reliably. A new study from LR’s Field Survey Group (FSG) explores the concept of ‘Next Generation Verifiers’ and encourages verifiers/surveyors to step back and re-evaluate their role to improve the quality of their service. The study also critically examines risk-based verification regimes and encourages the improvement of internal assurance processes, so that duty holders can confidently self-regulate themselves, look for blind spots, and use Independent Verification Bodies (IVBs), like LR, to their full potential.

The introduction of a risk-based verification regime in the UK was a crucial development following the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988. This regime requires the proactive role of the operators/owners of offshore installations to prevent and mitigate Major Accident Hazards (MAHs). Despite the systematic framework and verification process, the regime is still reactive and does not deliver the goals of the UK Offshore Safety Case Regulations (OSCRs), with multiple case studies, hydrocarbon leaks, and regulators’ enforcement notices suggesting that MAHs can still happen within the existing assurance process. As an independent verifier, LR has been working on a process to enhance the execution methodology of the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) offshore verification regime. While not changing the system, the aim is to encourage owners/operators and IVBs to look more closely at what they are trying to achieve, and by doing so they can introduce more effective work practices, providing an added benefit to their operations. Following extensive research and reflecting on LR’s survey experience, FSG Team Lead Irfan Nawaz has produced the study, titled ‘Next Generation Verifiers’, in collaboration with Liverpool John Moore University. The aim of the study is to ensure that the verification process remains proactive, improving internal assurance processes, ensuring safe operations and meeting OSCRs requirements.

This is the first study to document and validate the barriers impacting the effective implementation of the verification process. Findings suggest the continuous monitoring of these barriers throughout the verification cycle is required, as when used properly, IVBs are capable of identifying the weak signals of a major accident event – a best friend to the offshore industry which faces hazards on a daily basis. The strengths of next-generation verifiers are also highlighted in the study, along with training and development areas leading to a proposed proactive verification process.

The study presents a Bayesian Network model to evaluate the availability of the safety and environmental critical elements (SECEs), assisting duty holders to demonstrate compliance of SECEs. LR software application, V-Connect is introduced as the biggest data source of IVBs recommendations and data analysis reports are being generated for duty holders. Toolkits are provided to the IVBs and duty holders to assess the root cause of continuous degraded SECEs, and a high-level framework is presented to evaluate management issues impacting SECEs. Short and long-term cost benefits can be achieved through enhancing the safety, reliability and availability of SECEs by effectively implementing the proposed ‘next-generation verifiers’ framework. The framework represents a significant step in supporting duty holders to mature and deliver verification in a cost-effective manner.

"I am positive that the UK offshore risk-based regime will have a bigger global presence, let’s work together to proactively prevent major accidents."

Irfan Nawaz

Team Lead Field Survey Group

The desired results of a proactive risk-based regime have not been achieved so far and therefore, change is necessary. This change is an ongoing process and this study forms part of a bigger cycle, which includes developing next-generation verifiers, improving assurance processes and eliminating repeated failures. Author of the study, Irfan Nawaz, said: “Globally, I have experienced a few inspirational stories: an Irish duty holder demonstrates the will and commitment to implement the verification regime towards the end of field life; a Cyprus regulator educates their inspectors to implement the EU directive while inspecting first oil and gas exploration in the country; and the Nigerian offshore workforce is keen to learn the different facets of the risk-based regime.

These inspirational stories and many more provide positive indications that risk-based regimes will be strengthened in years to come and implemented in many more countries. In order to continue to inspire the global stakeholders, the regime should continue to evolve with the new challenges and embrace the change. Perhaps, this is the right time to introduce a global forum of IVBs. This will improve collaboration and knowledge sharing among IVBs, and benefit the offshore oil and gas industry, offshore workforce, duty holders, regulators and legislators. The study aims to be the true reflection of a risk-based regime. The researchers, regulators, duty holders and IVBs reflections of this study will only strengthen our belief in the regime. I am positive that the UK offshore risk-based regime will have a bigger global presence, let’s work together to proactively prevent major accidents.” 

Download LR’s Field Survey Group study:

Next Generation Verifiers

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