Danger from above

Chris Corcoran, ABS Global

May 1, 2017

Chris Corcoran, of ABS, highlights the importance of further improving safety to reduce the number of dropped object incidents on offshore facilities.

Statistics show that dropped objects cause up to 10% of industrial fatalities, thousands of injuries that require medical treatment and a considerable number of lost time injury events. Photo from snapinadil/Shutterstock.

The industry has made significant efforts to improve the offshore work environment, particularly over the past decade, but workers continue to sustain injuries, and many of these are caused by dropped objects. Statistics show that dropped objects cause up to 10% of industrial fatalities, thousands of injuries that require medical treatment and a considerable number of lost time injury events.

Safety in the offshore work environment has matured over the years, and many improvements have been made to personal protective equipment, work processes and safety training. A change in outlook has led to improvements in safety culture, with companies dedicating significant time and resources to improve safety and minimize injury to personnel, lost time incidents (LTIs) and asset damages. These advances protect workers’ lives every day, but work remains to be done.

Improving safety

Data gathered from the UK Continental Shelf illustrate the wide range of incidents caused by dropped objects that can occur in offshore operations. Among the events recorded were objects dropped while executing derrick and well operations, issues resulting from crane and lifting events and episodes that involved equipment and tools falling from scaffolding.

It might seem such accidents would have been difficult to avert, but in fact, many could have been prevented.

The traditional approach to managing dropped objects has been to apply best practices for existing equipment. While this is a good first step, it does not go quite far enough in truly addressing the issue. What is needed is a standardized approach.

Without an industry standard, designs for mitigating the potential for dropped objects and the associated risks are developed by each company according to its own guidelines. This means the definition of the safety hazard varies from one manufacturer to another as does the degree of application of safety design specifications. Without a focus on equipment design standards for minimizing dropped objects or an industry body to consult on engineering processes, every company is on its own.

Developing guidance

As a classification society, ABS identifies areas where safety improvement is needed and works with industry to create a solution. Recognizing a need to supplement current best practice, ABS developed the industry’s first standard provisions for dropped objects prevention, which promotes global safety initiatives and introduces a shift in equipment design considerations.

This guidance takes the current state of best practices to the international standard level and includes requirements for evaluating and certifying equipment designs. A life cycle process based on continuous monitoring for compliance forms the basis for an enhanced safety culture and creates a platform for focusing on designing and engineering equipment that is inherently “drops resistant,” delivering an increased level of safety with related classification designations.

This guide marks the beginning of change.

As the number of approved equipment offerings grows, drops resistant like-for-like replacements will grow. In time, existing equipment will be replaced with drops resistant certified equipment, and eventually, drops resistant equipment will become the norm. When this transition is complete, the result will be a safer working environment.

By working together to find ways to mitigate risks to personnel, it is possible to improve worker safety.

The offshore industry is facing the challenge of adopting new technologies and operational practices and at the same time complying with increasingly complex international, national and local regulations. As the work environment evolves, it is critically important to make sure safety keeps pace. Developing much needed guidance is a way to pave the way for improved offshore safety.

Chris Corcoran is a senior staff advisor in the ABS Global Offshore division. He has served in various domestic and international roles in the ABS survey operations division involving development and application of classification and statutory compliance for offshore units, ships and fixed installations. Chris’s career in the offshore and maritime industries spans 40 years, including 17 years with drilling contractors, where he managed global projects and technical operations support. He is a graduate of the University of Michigan and holds a Bachelor of Engineering Degree in Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.