Safehouse CEO Gordon Mackay discusses how pressurised habitats reduce the risk of fire or explosion
As the industry has evolved through the decades, so too has its approach to safety. New technology and procedures now allow operators to push the boundaries of exploration, production and refining whilst reducing unnecessary risk to personnel. The latest data from the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (IOGP) supports this: fatal incidents in 2014 fell to a 10-year low.
Yet lives are still lost in the industry’s pursuit of new resources. In the past few months alone, two separate explosions across plants and platforms have claimed a number of lives, and have resulted in charges being brought against an operator and two contracting companies relating to a fatal incident in 2012 for failing to follow proper safety practices when carrying out hot work.
The best way to avoid catastrophic incidents and ultimately safeguard the lives of industry staff is through a commitment to process safety across every global basin. Process safety needs to be a language that everyone in an operational role speaks, from the ground up, applying the hierarchy of control to everything they do. It is the operator’s responsibility to make sure that its employees, contractors and supply chain foster a safety culture that reflects this.
Safehouse’s core product was developed from the hierarchy of control and is used when the risk – hot work – cannot be substituted or eliminated. Owing to the nature of the business, process safety is always at the forefront of the company’s mind, and is rightly the first consideration of all of its clients.
Hot work is frequently required on facilities while maintaining production, when hydrocarbons and hazardous gases may be present. To manage the risk of ignition without the need for a production shutdown, pressurised areas – habitats – can be created, which build a barrier to stop the ingress of hydrocarbons. They create a safe area to carry out hot open flame work, ultimately mitigating the risk of a fire or explosion.
Pressurised habitats are specifically designed to manage the risks of ignition in hazardous areas, but also provide additional protection in the form of external gas detectors. These instantly shut down all systems associated with ignition risk upon the detection of hydrocarbons.
Applying the hierarchy of controls, when hot work is absolutely required and the hazard cannot be eliminated or substituted, pressurised habitats provide an excellent engineering control measure to manage and mitigate the risk of ignition. The result is that the OIM or permit authoriser can make a risk-based decision informed by equipment that has been designed and certified for this purpose, rather than guesswork when deciding to continue with the hot work without shutting down production.
The use of a positive pressure habitat enables the use of a robust process safety management system, designed to manage the risks associated with ignition and contributing factors such as human error. Pressurised enclosures can become part of the operational environment for the entire lifespan of a project in a hazardous area, allowing for greater flexibility when planning maintenance that involves hot work or naked flames, and also allowing for hot work to be considered within an acceptable process safety barrier.