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Four challenges – and four opportunities – for Drops prevention in South East Asian oil and gas

Published by , Editor
Oilfield Technology,

Mike Rice, Dropsafe, identifies and discusses four key Drops-related safety challenges facing oil and gas operators in South East Asia.

South East Asia has long been a focal point for oil and gas (O&G) exploration and production, continuing to draw investment. Ensuring installations are able to ramp up easily, as indicated in last year’s IEA SE Asia Energy Outlook, is key. As both personnel numbers and infrastructure increase, safe operations remain paramount in offshore markets such as Malaysia and Indonesia. This is especially important in light of current market volatility due to COVID-19.

Effective Dropped Object (Drops) prevention is a core facet of health and safety best practice. We have identified four key Drops-related safety challenges facing O&G operators in the region. This supports them in maintaining the highest safety standards and reduce exposure to risks affecting personnel, assets, finances, and reputation. In tackling each of these challenges, owners and operators of O&G stand to unlock opportunities for long-term HSE improvement and cost reduction.

1: Extreme weather

Many parts of South East Asia are subject to adverse environmental conditions. The monsoon season often brings typhoons, which subject O&G operations in the region to high wind speeds. Structural integrity of assets can be compromised, weakening fixtures and fittings such as lighting, CCTV cameras and loudspeakers. The problem is compounded due to year-round high temperatures and humidity, which can cause significant corrosion.

This leads to Dropped Objects (Drops) when equipment becomes loose and falls. Vibration, impacts, and other external forces may trigger this during normal operations. High winds can cause overhanging objects to swing and hit structures, causing the object to fall, thus threatening personnel and equipment.

Tailoring Drops solutions to conditions

Drops prevention systems need to be engineered for maximum versatility. In South East Asia, operators are faced with a range of conditions. It is therefore crucial to select a Net or Barrier system which is designed and built for robustness when faced with strong UV radiation, high temperatures, and raised levels of humidity.

Figure 1. Net.

Generally speaking, Drops prevention barrier systems are affixed to guardrailings, stairways and raised working platforms, preventing objects from being knocked through gaps by personnel or ricocheting further after a fall. Not all of the solutions used offer a versatile and cost-effective option, however. Dropsafe has observed a trend for operators using plywood on rigs, which is ill-suited for exposure to high heat and humidity.

Best practice Barrier systems should be constructed of durable polymer, which requires minimal maintenance. A durable modular system allows for extra flexibility; owners of the system can move the Barrier from site to site easily, making it a true long-term asset. The most advanced Barrier systems will be equipped to deal with those risks posed by extreme weather, with the flexibility to be installed to withstand category five wind speeds.

Figure 2. Barrier.

2: Stacking

The O&G market is cyclical in nature. The COVID-19 pandemic has precipitated a period of low oil prices globally, which leads some operators to focus on their more profitable assets. When this happens, it is common practice to place rigs and facilities into a dormant state until oil price rises make extraction viable again. This can entail a period of significantly reduced activity, but also reduced maintenance, where corrosion can set in.

When oil prices rise and stacked SE Asian assets are brought back into production, extensive safety checks are routinely carried out – but the risks to maintenance personnel can be high. A proactive approach to Drops risk mitigation is therefore vital.

Ensure a swift, safe return to operation

A comprehensive Drops prevention programme is essential at all stages of an asset lifecycle and should not be overlooked during periods reduced activity. During stacking, an effective use of time is to ensure that assets are primed to re-enter operation without extensive HSE overhauls.

For example, risks from overhead fixtures falling and damaging valuable equipment, or causing serious injury to personnel, can be mitigated using a steel wire mesh Net. This crucial piece of safety technology wraps around vulnerable fixtures, enclosing at-risk objects, securely tethering them to an appropriate attachment point. Taking care of this risk leaves assets in better health, enabling quicker re-activation times.

3: Cost pressures

During leaner periods of market activity, downward cost pressures can create a practical barrier to HSE investment. Operations managers, HSE personnel and other executives may decide to postpone new procurement. There may be an incentive to opt for products with the lowest upfront expenditure. This can, however, prove to be a false economy.

Long-term expenditure reduction

The cost of asset damage, compensation claims and Lost Time Injuries can easily outweigh the cost of a fully comprehensive Drops prevention programme. Reducing exposure to financial risks in the long-term can be hard to quantify, but the costs of incidents can reach hundreds of thousands of US dollars. Companies that insulate themselves from these risks therefore gain a competitive edge, while delivering peace of mind for personnel.

There’s another facet to sustainable HSE expenditure reduction: ensuring that investment in Drops prevention technology takes the durability and maintenance costs of a product into account. Robust, high-quality products that don’t require regular maintenance, are quick to install, and last for up to 10 years, will naturally cost less over their lifecycles.

4: Ensuring consistent awareness of Drops best practice

Operators in SE Asian O&G take Drops risks seriously. Particularly in drilling, where exposure to Drops is most visible, there is a widespread knowledge of Drops risks. There has been a trend, however, for some operators – by no means all – to adopt ‘makeshift’ secondary securing solutions, ranging from wire slings to rope. As a temporary fix, this may be a necessary ‘sticking plaster’. In the long run, it creates unacceptable risks to personnel, equipment, and reputation.

Creating a culture of holistic Drops prevention

Correct installation of the most advanced Drops prevention technology is a cornerstone of effective Drops prevention programmes. A holistic approach to Drops prevention requires solid education on the risks at every level of organisations, and throughout the O&G supply chain.

This means, at its core, sharing information. O&G has led the way on disseminating incident data between operators, which ensures that Drops prevention remains an evolving field. The next step is to ensure that Drops incidents are considered from the design of an asset or piece of equipment, through to the end of its life.

A culture of Drops prevention also means ensuring all personnel are equipped and trained with appropriate engineered solutions. For personnel working at height, handheld equipment such as radios and wrenches should be tethered to each worker with a steel mesh Pouch, preventing Drops when ascending structures.

Figure 3. Pouch.

Firms in South East Asian O&G that proactively tackle the four challenges outlined in this article will be well placed to lead the industry into the 2020s. By reducing exposure to Drops risks, they limit their vulnerability to financial risks too. Crucially, as the industry continues to innovate to meet the world’s energy needs, safety technology is evolving too. Which firms will lead the way?

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