Separate fire accidents–in three Petronas sites over the last few months, two of which involved casualties–are raising pressing concerns surrounding the safety procedures in Malaysia's oil and gas industry (OGI).
The most recent Petronas-related incident involved an oil tanker which caught fire and exploded at the jetty of Petronas Chemicals Methanol Sdn Bhd on July 26, 2012. The facility is part of the Rancha-Rancha industrial zone, which is located on the island of Pulau Enoe, near Labuan.
The 38,000 deadweight-tonne MISC tanker was loading six tonnes of methanol when a small fire broke out during a thunderstorm, The Star Online reported on July 29, 2012. The fire quickly turned into a raging inferno sparking off at least three major explosions that could be felt throughout the island, the daily added.
MISC, a subsidiary of Petronas, confirmed July 30, 2012, through a published statement on its website, that the accident had claimed five lives, with the body of its fifth and last victim found in a holding tank of the scorched ship.
A spokesperson from Petronas told Rigzone on Wednesday that "the identification of the bodies took several days as they were badly damaged and DNA tests had to be administered".
Petronas added that an investigation on the accident started on Wednesday.
This incident follows closely from another fire which blazed at the Petronas Carigali's Tukau B Platform offshore Miri on June 11 this year. In an earlier statement, Petronas said it was forced to stop production at the platform and five out of 16 persons on board were injured. Out of the five victims, the most severely affected was a technician who was reported to have suffered second-degree burns.
Earlier on May 11 this year, a Petronas gas process plant in the GPP Complex A in Kerteh was rocked by two explosions. A worker died on the spot, while 23 others were injured. Some 2,000 workers were at the site when the explosions occurred.
Lessons To Be Learnt
The Institution of Engineers Malaysia (IEM), in an exclusive interview with Rigzone, raised two main concerns when commenting about the overall safety procedures in Malaysia's OGI, in relation to the two earlier incidents.
The first concern pertains to an establishment of complete written procedures within the OGI, while the second concern touches on the education of the OGI workforce.
Commenting on the establishment of complete written procedures, a spokesperson with IEM told Rigzone that "time and resources are spent to prepare, review and harmonize procedures such that they are suitable for the activities encountered in the OGI. Upstream exploration and production companies in Malaysia have safety and operational integrity management systems that they enforce on their contractors. However even with these company-dictated directions in place, it is the onus of the front line staff to ensure adequate engineering documentation is available and reviewed prior to an operation, as equipment of the same utility may not have the same configuration, with possible subtle differences. The work crew should not assume that a procedure which is applicable to one equipment will also be applicable to another."
The spokesperson was referring to the incidents which took place at the Petronas Carigali's Tukau B Platform offshore Miri and the Petronas gas process plant in the GPP complex A in Kerteh. In both instances, Petronas was conducting maintenance work on the facilities when the fires occurred.
"The similarity for these accidents is that they occurred when a non-standard operation – maintenance works – is being performed," the spokesperson said. With the proper documentation in place, he "believes that further attention should be on the correct and appropriate implementation of procedures in activities carried out by personnel in the front line."
"If the activity deviates from the work plan, a review needs to be carried out to ensure any new risks are identified and adequately managed. The team should be aware of actions which will affect systems outside of their work area, and compromise integrity and safety," the spokesperson added.
Giving his views on the education of the OGI workforce at present, the spokesperson said that there is an urgent need for the industry to clearly define the term "safety concern".
"All safety management systems explicitly state that work may be stopped if there are safety concerns, but the definition of the term 'safety concern' is different across companies. The industry, perhaps under the supervision of the IEM or the Malaysian Construction Industry Development Board, should conduct regular accreditation of safety personnel to calibrate and maintain acceptable safety standards," the spokesperson said.
Educating the OGI is an ongoing process at every echelon of the workforce. A proper understanding of safety needs to be instilled regularly, as portions of the workforce are seasonal and migratory. Employees ought to be encouraged to surface best practices that they had encountered in previous projects.
"It is important to constantly convey the message to the workforce that having a safety-conscious mindset does not develop out of habit, it is a conscious choice," the spokesperson remarked.
An example brought up by the spokesperson is when an offshore employee becomes observant and conscientious enough to remind his team members to put on their appropriate protective gear.
"This is a seemingly small example, but it embodies the ideal of an employee who is properly educated," the spokesperson said.
Other than safety procedures and workforce culture, there are other technical considerations, chiefly business and financial decisions taken by companies. A business decision to operate and maintain an asset near the end stage of its designed life may produce cost savings for the company, but could result in the facility running at a sub-optimal safety level. Without a corresponding tightening of the surveillance of the equipment and the work environment, the risks of failure run higher and the end result could be catastrophic.
Sum of its parts
The state of Malaysia's OGI's safety records can be improved despite the recent costly setbacks. With a multi-pronged approach of watertight documentation, workforce education and safety-oriented business decisions, further needless tragedies can be avoided.
Safety cannot be accomplished in half-measure, as the spokesperson aptly rounded up, "melepaskan batuk di tangga".
IEM is a professional and learned body established to promote the science and profession of engineering and to facilitate the exchange of information and ideas relating to engineering. Founded in 1959, IEM has at present 32,000 members. It is projecting to increase its membership strength to 100,000 over the next five years.
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