UK HSE Says Offshore Safety Shows Improvement

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said there were grounds for believing that health and safety performance on the UK Continental Shelf will see a major improvement during the next decade.

The comments came as HSE published headline offshore injury and ill-health statistics for the year ending March 31, 2003, together with updated hydrocarbon release figures. These show that there were no fatalities offshore last year and significant reductions in reported 'over three day' injuries and hydrocarbon releases.

Provisional figures contained in HSE's Offshore Safety Statistics Bulletin for 2002/2003 show:

  • there were no deaths offshore, compared to three in 2001/2002;
  • 58 major injuries were reported, up four (a 7% increase) on last year's figures;
  • the combined fatal and major injury rate increased to 260.5 per 100,000 workers compared to 245.6 in 2001/2002;
  • 'over three day' injuries decreased by 31% to 123 - 53 less than the previous year, sustaining the reducing trend;
  • the rate of over three day injuries declined significantly from 758.42 per 100,000 workers in 2001/2002 to 552.45 per 100,000 workers in 2002/2003; and
  • 636 dangerous occurrences (including hydrocarbon releases) were reported - 25 less than the previous year (a decrease of 4%).

  • Announcing the figures at the Offshore Europe 2003 Exhibition & Conference in Aberdeen, Taf Powell, head of HSE's Offshore Division, said: "The health and safety regime was installed ten years ago, based on the recommendations in Lord Cullen's report into the Piper Alpha tragedy 15 years ago this summer. Overall, much has been achieved, with most accidents, particularly over three day injury accidents, showing sustained improvements year on year. This is a most welcome trend, for which industry and Step Change - a network of employer and workforce representatives set up in 1997 - are to be commended.

    "However, improvements are somewhat slower than some other parts of the world and fatal and serious injuries remain a cause for concern. Although there were no fatalities last year, compared to an average of three or four per year since 2000, serious injuries remained at a high level. There was also, sadly, a fatal accident in May this year.

    "The statistics show a small decline in dangerous occurrences. This is important because such incidents are an indicator of underlying risk levels offshore. Most encouraging are the hydrocarbon release statistics (see table below). In 2000, HSE and industry launched a sustained attack on these, with the aim of a 50% reduction in major and significant releases by the end of March 2004. With six months of the campaign to run, major and serious releases are down by some 39% and we are aiming to improve on this by now targeting the poorer performing installations.

    "HSE and industry are also targeting all accidents during deck and drilling operations, where most fatal and serious accidents have occurred in recent years, with the aim of permanently eliminating fatalities and reducing all accidents by 15% by 2006.

    "We are concerned at what appears to be a growing number of maintenance backlogs, and incidents possibly related to failure to maintain safety critical plant and equipment. HSE is setting up a new key program to tackle these defects to help secure the infrastructure of the UKCS in a suitable condition well into the future.

    Margaret Burns from the Health & Safety Commission (HSC), HSE's parent body, joined Mr Powell at Offshore Europe. HSC was pleased to acknowledge, she said, a milestone in HSE joining forces with employers and unions in a partnership at this year's show. The intention of the partnership is to make a positive difference, via greatly improved health and safety performance, to working on the UKCS.

    "HSC recognizes that well-run businesses are safe businesses with a healthy, productive workforce", Commissioner Burns said. "Injuries and ill-health create extremely high costs to businesses, not to say to those injured, and to the families of people hurt or killed, and are clearly damaging to the economy. Achieving the health and safety targets set by industry and Government for the offshore sector will accrue real benefits to those working offshore and to industry; in fact benefits to industry that can be calculated in cash terms.

    "Health and safety adds value and helps sustain jobs and business growth. As the head of EasyJet famously said: 'If you think safety is expensive, try having an accident'. The leadership currently being shown by the offshore industry, the commitment to see real change and the commitment to partnership should serve as an object lesson for other industrial sectors."

    Taf Powell concluded: "HSE's Offshore Division has joined with Step Change in a new partnership for the UKCS with the aim of making this the safest offshore sector in the world by 2010. We intend reaching this target, which is one of three key priorities for the industry and Government, the others being to maintain production and investment at high levels.

    "HSE acknowledges it has a major part to play in securing for Britain a safe, healthy offshore industry with a long-term future. Securing the vision for 2010 will require commitment and continuity for the longer term, recognizing that senior people and even companies will come and go on the UKCS.

    "Whilst working in partnership we recognize that business, unions and regulators also have their unique roles to fulfill. For HSE this means taking enforcement action where necessary, and also reviewing the effectiveness of the Safety Case Regulations. We have learned from the past decade and believe we can make the regulations more effective in helping prevent a major accident whilst at the same time removing unnecessary burdens on all involved in complying with them. Overall, there are grounds for optimism that the next ten years will see a major improvement in health and safety on the UKCS. HSC/E will play their full part in achieving this."