The Piper Alpha explosion on an offshore oil production platform was one of the most devastating accidents in the oil and gas industry, resulting in the death of 167 men. A UK-government official conducted a 13-month investigation into the 1988 disaster, which prompted 106 recommendations to be made to improve safety. Now, 25 years after Piper Alpha, the investigator has spoken out at the Oil and Gas UK conference to discuss what the industry has learned about safety and where improvements can be made to provide broader protection to offshore workers.
Despite significant safety improvements, any offshore accident lawyer in Louisiana knows that accidents continue to happen and workers continue to get hurt in the dangerous offshore drilling industry. Learning from past disasters and constantly striving to make offshore platforms safer remains an important goal and the summary of the industry by the investigator gives drilling companies ideas for areas where they can start looking for improvement.
Investigator Summarizes Safety Issues
The Piper Alpha investigator broke his talk down into different categories that affect safety on offshore rigs including the following:
- Management: Management shortcomings including a lack of clear procedure for shift handover, an inadequate permit-to-work system and insufficient employee training were contributing factors to Piper Alpha. Having safe leadership remains a key factor in preventing accidents as the investigator pointed out “no amount of regulations can make up for deficiencies in the quality of management of safety,” as avoiding the risk of drilling and offshore accidents “depends critically on effective safe leadership at all levels.”
- Process Safety: Although personal safety is important to minimize the risk of injury for individual workers, process safety is the key to preventing big accidents. There should be an overall understanding of the major risks that could cause problems to develop and there must be systems to control the risks. The systems should also be checked regularly to make sure there are no breakdowns or deficiencies. A breakdown in process safety was not only the problem in Piper Alpha, but the BP Texas City refinery disaster in 2005 was also caused by “deficiencies at all levels of the corporation” as budget cuts and pressure to produce impaired process safety.
- Regular auditing: For most of the major accidents in the oil and gas industry, including Piper Alpha, the 2005 Buncefield disaster in UK, and the 2005 Texas City refinery disaster, there were warning signs of problems in advance. When there are signs of equipment not being fit or employees not following safety procedures, feedback needs to be given and followed up on to ensure changes are made.
- Communication: Communication is essential to ensure safety as different workforces must work together even as many workers are in a demanding and isolated environment offshore. Owners, rig operators, offshore and onshore personnel all need to communicate regularly about safety issues, key decisions on operations, and company policies.
While things have improved in the oil and gas industry thanks to changes made since Piper Alpha, ongoing safety efforts in these key areas remain necessary in order to protect the lives and health of workers.
If you or a loved one suffered a Gulf Coast maritime or offshore injury, contact the Law Offices of William Gee III at 1-800-488-5227 to speak to a Louisiana offshore accident lawyer.