Piper Alpha conference: Chrysaor CEO issues list of challenges to oil industry

Article by Adam Duckett

Phil Kirk: we need to find a way to tell the lawyers to ‘get lost’

PHIL KIRK, CEO of Chrysaor, has issued challenges to the oil industry community at a UK conference seeking to secure a safer future for offshore oil and gas as the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha tragedy approaches.

Giving the keynote presentation on the second day of the Piper Alpha Legacy conference, Kirk’s first challenge to industry executives, safety experts, and regulators gathered in Aberdeen is to buy and read a copy of Lord Cullen’s investigation into the disaster and rediscover the 106 recommendations that were made following the death offshore of 167 men.

The Piper Alpha disaster occurred on 6 July 1988. A series of events involving a shift handover and confusion over work permits led to a condensate pump being restarted in error. This led to a release of hydrocarbons and a series of fatal explosions and fires. One of the key changes that followed the investigation was the adoption of a goal-setting regulatory regime. However, Kirk explained that operators are in some ways still guilty of being overly-prescriptive.

Stop ticking boxes

“I do think as an industry, we’re prone to employ the very best people with the very best qualifications and then give them a book and say: ‘This is how you do it’. I think…we’ve got to find a way to release the competence and the skills of our people that little bit more, which means involving them in the process and decision making a little bit more than maybe we have in the past.”

A common theme discussed throughout the two days of the conference has been finding ways for companies to share near misses and lessons learned to prevent accidents being repeated. In an impassioned speech yesterday, Piper Alpha survivor Steve Rae urged regulators to mandate that companies share safety data.

Tell the lawyers to get lost

Kirk noted that there have been recent occasions where operators have been only one safety barrier away from an incident.

“We’ve been lucky. We need to share the learnings from those events much more than we do. We need to find a way where we tell the lawyers [who are preventing us from sharing information] to ‘get lost’ because this is about safety and we need to share the lessons that we have learned individually.”

Speakers across the conference have repeated the message that industry must have a chronic sense of unease. Kirk challenged the audience to think about what role they play within their company in preventing a major accident.

“It’s not about the health and safety process, it’s about risk and it’s protecting people. So, challenge yourself: what signals could you have reacted a little more strongly to?”

He asked the audience to consider the instances where they think ‘we should do something about that’, but then have failed to address it.

First-hand experiences

The final set of challenges issued by Kirk focussed on gaining a greater understanding of both Piper Alpha and the offshore environment. He urged people to watch the Remembering Piper Alpha video produced by Step Change in Safety, noting it reaffirms how quickly lives can be lost and the risks that industry are trying to address.

Furthermore, Chrysaor is sending staff to experience the offshore working environment, and to DNV GL’s Spadeadam fire and explosion testing facility in the UK.

“We’re sending everyone to Spadeadam and scaring the bejesus out of them…we all used to do that. When did we stop? When did we stop insisting all the leaders and managers went?”

“That’s another challenge: actually seeing live the effects of an explosion or a jet fire and talking about it is hugely powerful and the best team building we’ve ever done.”

Piper Alpha legacy

Finally, Kirk reviewed Chrysaor’s own set of ‘life-saving rules’ that staff are challenged to consider.

“Do you know your role in major accident prevention? In control of work? And particularly in management of change? Perhaps you want to go back to your shop and think about your life saving rule?”

He closed by noting that the UK’s oil industry must get more efficient by accepting change and welcoming new technologies. Also, industry should get a better understanding of mental health and wellbeing, and encourage staff to raise safety issues.

“It is for us to shape the industry in a way that we are proud of and provides part of the legacy of Piper Alpha.”

Article by Adam Duckett

Editor, The Chemical Engineer

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