Info flow key to efficient lifetime extension programs: Safety expert

Companies extending production beyond platform design life must look to improve information flows between departments to avoid planning and execution issues on modification projects, Conrad De Souza, one of the UK Health and Safety Executive’s most experienced structural integrity experts, said.

De Souza, a warranted inspector with 23 years’ experience of assessing the structural integrity of offshore structures, told Upstream Intelligence that poor communication is one of the issues he most commonly encounters and this can lead to a series of problems, particularly in the case of large-scale modifications to existing structures. 

De Souza said that although many operators have well-thought-out procedures, others are guilty of organizational “disconnects” that can cause: 

• A failure of a company’s onshore structural technical authorities (TAs) to visit the offshore engineers that they are supporting, resulting in a lack of understanding of the real situation.
• A failure of companies’ senior managers to appreciate the scale of the task faced by TAs.
• A failure of planners within a company to understand fully the information supplied to them by design contractors, and a failure to give adequate feedback to contractors.
• A failure to organise planning and procurement processes in a way that minimises the dangers faced by offshore staff.

De Souza said that these factors “quite regularly” affect brownfield projects. “In one case we had to halt work on a large modification scheme in the North Sea because the calculations to back up the safety case had not been completed,” he said.

“The design contractors had produced about 60 reports and one of them mentioned that there was a major issue with one aspect of the scheme – and this had not been communicated to the project decision makers. That scheme has been at a standstill for almost two years now.”

Unnecessary risks

Another serious consequence was that companies did not schedule maintenance shut downs at the appropriate time of the year, resulting in attempts to carry out repairs during winter storms.

“I’ve frequently advised companies not to carry out fabric maintenance between November and March. Earlier this year I was west of Shetland when work was under way in January and weather conditions were severe enough to require frequent disconnections of the bridge to the fixed installation. This was the outcome of poor planning, and it exposed the workforce to unnecessary risks and the company to greatly increased costs,” De Souza said.

This situation was exacerbated by a failure to co-ordinate the contractors and equipment involved in maintenance campaigns, he said.

“Last winter there were floatels with 300 people on board, but little maintenance work could be progressed because either the vendors were not present, or the equipment was not available.”

Building trust

One underlying cause of these difficulties is reluctance on the part of some firms to allocate adequate resources to their onshore TAs.

In one case, the HSE found that a large company was operating with a single structural TA and a graduate assistant. This led to a warning that the company was not carrying out its structural management functions safely and within 12 months prompted management to appoint of a team of 10 people to support the TA.

De Souza said that firms can tackle these problems by challenging what he called the “silo mentality” of departments within an organization, each with its own profit centre. Onshore staff should be given time to visit offshore facilities and “build up a rapport” with workers there, and senior management should adopt a listening culture, he said.

One of the main cultural bonuses that comes from better communication is the creation of trust, which encourages staff to be open about the issues that they are facing, he said.