Fatal Accidents at Petronas Sites Forces Relook at Safety Standards

Fatal Accidents at Petronas Sites Forces Relook at Safety Standards

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.

Fatal Accidents at Petronas Sites Forces Relook at Safety Standards

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 considerations

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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Generated by readers, the comments included herein do not reflect the views and opinions of Rigzone. All comments are subject to editorial review. Off-topic, inappropriate or insulting comments will be removed.
Independent | Jan. 13, 2013
When hiring HSE personnel, companies are interested in the amount of degree & diploma & paper qualifications rather then work experiences.

ANONYMOUS | Aug. 30, 2012
I worked for Petronas platforms for a few years now. This is what I can gather. Safety equipments i.e. fire fighting equipment, life boats are not checked for years and left unattended. Some life rafts are expired and no action are being taken. Fire monitors are rusted so badly that it is not working. No weekly, monthly or even yearly fire drills held on non mother platforms. Management in town pushes the crew to write stop cards but they themselves do NOT write any in town. No safety incentives were given to crew, not even a T-Shirt, Cap etc. Until recently, all those unsold Petronas F1 Merchandise are now used as safety gifts for weekly meetings. Permits are not closed properly and filed. No safety audits are done by safety department. There are too many issues that need to be settled but each time, with their cost cutting exercise, safety is not their priority, production is..... Petronas crew are seen walking around the platform without safety glasses, ear plugs etc. More disasters will happen.... More deaths..... More families without fathers.... and they still wont learn..... as the management themselves are sitting in office for the money.....

Zul | Aug. 9, 2012
In this part of the world, PETRONAS, I see the biggest issue is the culture. They are aware of the hazard, see what could happen but still insist in taking the risk to get the job done. Trainings, workshops, HSE meeting, policies, incentives, HSE day, HSE week, brochures.. etc.. you name it, they have done it. But its not in the blood. Youll get a pat on the back to get the job done, but not stopping it. Need to change this.

SAM | Aug. 6, 2012
I have two comments on your report. First Accreditation of safety personnel and second seasonal and migratory workforce. Due to globalization and global nature of O&G industry, organization across globe including national & international are recruting workforce of different nationalities. Here comes the question of imparting training to workforce. Many national companies particularly within Middle east are biased and discriminating while providing appropriate training/courses to expatriates and national workforce. Unless all the workforce treated at par & equally in providing training these type of incidents going to occur in every part of globe within OGI. Some organization do not even consider accreditation as requirement for the job.

Placide Jumonville III | Aug. 4, 2012
I would hope that everyones primary reactions should be to the tragic loss of life, resultant suffering to the survivors, and the hardships and grief caused to the families of the deceased; all directly or indirectly caused by this company. As all of us can see, and as "anonymous" correctly pointed out, this is very likely the result of top management failure; the strategy of handing the work force safety rules and guidelines and pushing production times and cost savings without setting the expectations of safety being paramount. Until they commit to consistently doing this and disciplining managers who dont, companies will continue to kill their employees. The bottom line is that safety costs immediate profits and wont pfinancially profit the company until many years later. Its always convenient to blame the dead for the throwing the wrong switch or whatever was the immediate trigger to this these fatalities, but in the end it is management that creates the mindset that allows or prevents that switch in being activated.

Edmond Baruque | Aug. 3, 2012
When similar accidents occur at different sites owned by the same company one can infere lack of management commitment / involvement in safety. It is too easy to blame the teams in the front line. Real safety culture spreads from management by talking and listening to the "front liners" and leading by example.

Adegbite Olaseni Moross | Aug. 3, 2012
Safety is Every minute, every persons responsibilities which should be enforced and adhered to by every one. Also, equipments and machines should be checked regularly in-case of malfunctioning and possible hazard. Reporting and Review of every incident is also a key to avoiding asccident

LTJX | Aug. 2, 2012
Is Steven G, Jones really saying that NOT having a college degree is the main qualification for being a professional safety officer? It may very well be that in many fields college courses do not teach nearly as much as a similar amount of on-the-job experience. And no doubt much of this will depend on the college, the specific course, the professor, effort invested, etc. But I wasnt aware that college education could actually make you LESS qualified for certain jobs!

Vijay Jhankal | Aug. 2, 2012
I think the opinion written in this editorial under the section "sum of its parts" is good enough. Safety should start from concept stage and business decisions must have risk assessment for new projects as well as maintenance. Education of the workforce is also quite important factor specified by editor. Thanks.

Anonymous | Aug. 2, 2012
I work with Petronas and I am currently resigning from my position as a supervisor due to the lack of safety standard that is ACTUALLY being brought out to the work place. I have never in my almost 15 years in the industry have seen a Operator continuously cut corners the way PCSB does. It is a matter of time before someone gets seriously injured on one of their Drilling operations if any of them operate the same way this one does.

daniel dominick | Aug. 2, 2012
It is an absolute disgrace that an established oil company can not even manage its facilities to prevent major incidents. Do the people they are entrusting with the overseeing of their facilities have any basic understanding of how to manage the operation of live hydrocarbon operations. With incidents as basic as this it seems not.

Steven G Jones | Aug. 1, 2012
Maybe if hey would consider hireing real safety profeshionals with out a college degree, these needles fatalities could be prevented, I was a former OSHA compliance Officer, I see alot of stupid so called college safety people out in the feild.

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