Making a better case for safety

The focus on safety within the offshore oil & gas industry has never been clearer. Two of Rowan's safety specialists took time to discuss with Jennifer Pallanich the company's work on the safety case for the Rowan Mississippi while the jackup was in the Sabine Pass, Texas, yard for a few upgrades before mobilizing to the Middle East.

The safety case, a systematic approach to identifying and reducing major hazards, is strongest when it includes crew involvement, says Rowan safety specialist Jack Isbell.

‘The most important part of developing a safety case is crew involvement,' he says. ‘The intent is for the safety case to be a tool for a better understanding of the (Safety & Environmental Management System) SEMS and a roadmap of the SEMS.'

Jack Isbell

Safety cases, which were initially developed for the North Sea in 1993 as a response to the 1988 Piper Alpha explosion, are six-part documents for each rig, comprising the introduction, safety management system, rig description and supporting documentation, risk management, emergency response, and justification for continued operations.

Rowan is developing its safety cases using a template based on the international safety case developed by the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC).

‘The goal here is to, number one, prove that Rowan has a safety and environment management system in place and secondly, to identify major hazards and reduce them to as low as reasonably practicable,' Isbell says. ‘We are about 60% complete on the revision of existing safety cases and the development of new safety cases' across the Rowan fleet of 29 jackup rigs in service. Additionally, Rowan has two more jackups and two ultra-deepwater drillships under construction. The UK requires each safety case to be updated and submitted for acceptance every five years.

Ahead of going on a three-year contract with Saudi Aramco, the Rowan Mississippi jackup was upgraded at Rowan Companies' Sabine Pass yard with a reserve pit to hold OE more mud.

The safety case is required in the UK North Sea and Australia, Isbell notes, and Rowan is working to ensure it has the documentation available to enable its rigs to work in any sector of the world.

But even when safety cases are completed, Isbell notes, at least one study has shown that the documents are not always used as they were intended. That study, carried out in 2009 for the UK Health & Safety Executive, showed only 7% of those surveyed contributed to or were partially involved in writing and/or revising the safety case.

‘I use the results from the survey in my trainings to stress the need for improvement,' he adds, noting harmful consequences could result. ‘People can lose sight of the major hazards and can allow the breakdown of barriers in the prevention of major accidents. For instance, a mechanic aboard a rig must understand full well how his planned maintenance of a piece of equipment ties in directly to lifesaving equipment, so that he will have a better understanding of the importance of his task.'

To ensure the crew ‘buys in' to the safety case, he says, Rowan holds two-day workshops on hazards for each rig, called Bowtie workshops, referring to the name of the software used in the process. These workshops, Isbell says, assess the major accident risks, and as the information is compiled ultimately ‘the diagram winds up looking like a bowtie'. The system makes the safety case ‘more accessible,' Isbell believes.

One example Isbell offers relates to gas entrained in the mud system, which could lead to ignition at the rig floor. Several different threats could lead to that event, he notes, and the event could have several different consequences.

‘The event is a natural consequence of that hazard existing. The threats are certain things that happen in the process of performing our jobs, but what we have to do is ensure that there are barriers in place to prevent the threats from becoming the event,' Isbell explains.

‘We could get a bunch of people together at the office and hammer it out, but it would do us no good,' Isbell says. ‘But if we involve the crew, and they make the contributions, they can actually ensure these barriers are in place. For me to have a mechanic at a Bowtie workshop that understands how his maintenance of the gas detection system in the mud path is crucial to the prevention of an event . . . is a good use of his time and his energy. Rowan believes it, from (president and CEO) Matt Ralls to the VP of HSE (Barbara Carroll), they've all supported, endorsed and encouraged crew involvement in the development, provision and maintenance of the safety case.'

As safety specialist Gayle Polansky observes, it's important to involve both the personnel on the rig as well as executives because the rig personnel know ‘practically' while those who don't work on the rig know ‘theoretically' what may happen. ‘Sometimes theoretical and real-life aren't quite the same. That's why their "buy in" is so crucial,' she says.

The safety cases have evolved since the first Rowan safety case was accepted by regulators in the UK North Sea in 1993. Most noticeable, Isbell says, is that the documents are now more user-friendly. ‘We asked ourselves: "Who is this case for?" We decided that the safety cases developed for our rigs would be for our crews, our customers and the regulators.'

A second change is a reduction in technical references. ‘We've gone from referencing everything to referencing the important things,' he says.

Polansky says the safety case has evolved from being a regulatory requirement – ‘a document on the shelf because they had to have it' – to being a document that the crew wants to use to ensure they stay safe. The safety case gives a basic overview, and the SEMS breaks it down into procedures, Polansky notes.

‘The next step is the training we do on the rig,' Isbell says, ‘so that the entire crew knows what the safety case is, where they can find it, and how they can use it to continue working safely.' OE

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