Many people in the oil and gas industry believe that technology can solve even the most obdurate safety issues, such as dropped objects and oil spills. This short article aims to challenge this assertion, by demonstrating that while new technologies play a significant role in the reduction and mitigation of the dropped object issue, only a holistic and comprehensive approach will ultimately get the off-shore industry close to zero drop incidents.

This kind of holistic policy has to incorporate many diverse aspects in a coordinated, collaborative and structured way, both on board rigs and ashore. To deliver on this, the whole industry, including oil companies, drillers and third parties such as supply ships, must subscribe to the principles of High Reliability Organisations. This cultural shift will require us to use technology more effectively, more quickly and more adaptively than before.

A High Reliability Organisation (HRO) is an organisation which has succeeded in avoiding catastrophes and minimising accidents in an environment where normal accidents can be expected due to risk factors and operational complexity. Technology assists in this journey but it does not address all the issues. Companies perceived as HROs include USMC, Mercedes Benz, QANTAS and Rolls-Royce.

Becoming a DROPs High Reliability Organisation
Advances in dropped object safety have become a focus throughout the oil and gas sector. Safety processes have been honed to prevent predictable and needless incidents. This is particularly the case in Dropped Object Prevention Scheme (DROPS) safety, where every near miss or incident carries a human factor, either as an originating occurrence or as a consequence. New technologies such as radio frequency identification (RFID) and drones are contributing to saving lives and livelihoods. For example, RFID tagging readily allows condition monitoring to be undertaken and drones provide a fast, complementary and high resolution condition monitoring asset to complete the first sweep of the rig for potential safety hazards. Both are helping to move the industry away from periodic inspections, and eliminating failures attributable to this inspection methodology.

However, DROPS safety is still fundamental. The new technologies at our disposal are helping manage this risk but they are not necessarily solving the problem. To manage this risk appropriately we must strive to become High Reliability Organisations, by collaboratively applying new technologies to make cultural shifts, empower best practice and destigmatise failure.

DROPs high reliability and operational capability
Any DROPS policy should include, but not be limited to, the tenets of operational capability which focus on and complement high reliability. These are:

Create a DROPS aware rig crew and enshrine the role of DROPS champions both on-board and ashore. DROPS champions promote:

  • Awareness;
  • Involvement;
  • Ownership;
  • Dialogue;
  • Mind-set.

Use of new technologies such as RFID tagging and drones to undertake condition monitoring can act in concert with more traditional approaches, such as secondary retention using slings and netting, tagging, lock nuts, etc.

DROPs training is not best conducted through basic offshore safety induction and emergency training (BOSIET) alone. Instead it should be a continuous process consisting of both active and passive training and interactive education, to ensure we achieve the necessary culture shift. New IT and training methodologies really can make a significant contribution. These could include:

  • Inter-active on-board training;
  • Role of DROPS champion in training;
  • Best practices covered in BOSIET and refresher training;
  • Complementary training during annual DROPS surveys (similar to regular holiday campaigns to raise awareness of drink driving).

This is the realm of on-board management and the corporate office. They can ensure that DROPS initiatives are not just transient, but an enduring campaign which is refreshed and reinvigorated over time. These campaigns warrant an appropriate budget in line with the risk and the desire for progress. Actions they could take include:

  • Promoting the culture and qualities of a High Reliability Organisation (HRO);
  • Establishing safety and prevention reward bonuses and companywide key performance indicators (KPIs);
  • Making safety a selling point and a selection criteria;
  • Publishing safety columns in quarterly newsletters and online;
  • Creating industry awareness of the cost of accidents / near misses.

DROPS champions can ensure on-board sustainability through their own drive and commitment to the cause, but they must feel they have backing from the top when dealing with issues in their workplace. This means they must:

  • Be the right person for the job – not the default HSE man;
  • Use RFID technologies to boost safety (rig manager/offshore installation manager to take a personal interest in this);
  • Promote the value of the move to condition monitoring rather than planned maintenance to improve safety;
  • Establish location champions – on the drill floor, engine room, navigation bridge, etc.

High Reliability Partnerships
In a DROPS HRO, managers and crew need to be constantly aware of how processes and systems affect the organisation. Each employee must pays close attention to operations and maintain awareness of what is or is not working. There are no assumptions. This focus on processes leads to observations which inform corporate decision-making, making it more transparent and spawning new operational initiatives.

Zero tolerance to dropped object incidents is not a raison d’etre. It is an aspiration to making our operating environment safer.

Look deeper
DROPs HRO are reluctant to accept ‘simple’ explanations for problems. Gravity and kinetic energy are the problem, not the glib answer. Broad-brush excuses and explanations can be attractive when safety processes don’t work well. But while it is beneficial to simplify work processes, HROs recognise the risks of failing to dig deeply enough to find the real source of a particular problem. High Reliability Organisations identify potential reasons for poor performance, they continue to probe further, and they ask more questions until they find the specific source of the problem.

Think about failure
DROPs High Reliability Organisations have a preoccupation with failure. Every employee at every level in a High Reliability Organisation is encouraged to think of ways their work processes might break down, in terms of both small inefficiencies and major failures. This sense of shared attentiveness is constant. Employees are encouraged to share their concerns about potential failures, which can help create best practices across departments and destigmatise failure. We have seen this approach work in subsea engineering, and now we should strive for it in DROPS.

Listen to experience
Leaders at High Reliability Organisations listen to people who have the most developed knowledge of the task at hand. Sometimes, those individuals might not have the most seniority, but they are encouraged to voice their concerns, ideas and input regardless of hierarchy. If this approach can be followed for DROPS champions, and for those with outside expertise, then they will feel empowered and success will follow.

Aim for resilience
DROPS HROs are prepared to respond to failures and continually strive for new solutions. They might improvise more, or quickly develop new ways to respond to unexpected events. High Reliability Organisations might experience numerous failures, but it is their resilience and swift problem solving that prevents catastrophes. They demonstrate the OODA Loop (Observe, Orientate, Decide, Act) in action.

DROPs High Reliability Organisations aim for coherence. They do not accept incoherence or self-imposed conflicts, which only confuse matters.

According to the DROPS Best Practice Handbook (revision 3), double nutting is prohibited or unapproved. Despite this, many rigs emerge from construction double nutted – even though the ultimate client wants pal-nuts or nord lock washers. The post-shipyard cost is huge both financially and in time.

Similarly, clients should understand that it is recommended that the secondary retention wire rope for sheaves or snatch blocks should be secured to a separate independent point instead of to the same anchorage point. Unfortunately, on newbuild rigs, the latter is usually the case. Again, recti cation costs both time and money and creates an accident prone environment until such times as remedial action is taken.

Working together
Together, everyone involved can achieve a safer environment. When every company addresses issues as outlined above, we as an industry can drive dropped object safety to a manageable and close to zero risk. As an industry, we can use new technologies to alleviate the risks but cultures need to change as well. Without a change of culture, we will never be able to maximise the leverage from these technologies to arrive at our ‘safety’ destination.

In DROPS safety a dropped object is any object which falls from an elevated position (>2m). These can be:

  • Static (a drop from a stationary position)
  • Dynamic (a drop from an unsecured position or as a result of being struck or as a result of a collision).


David Mugridge AFNI RN
OES Asset Integrity Management

Article originally published in the July 2017 edition of Seaways
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