SOME PERSONAL VIEWS FROM A WORKING LIFE IN ENGINEERING AND HSE IN ENERGY INDUSTRIES
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14-06-2009, 08:58 AM


SOME PERSONAL VIEWS FROM A WORKING LIFE IN
ENGINEERING AND HSE IN ENERGY INDUSTRIES
PAUL R BELLISS
CONSULTANT HSE MANAGER
CAIRN ENERGY INDIA PVT LTD,
GURGAON, INDIA
Email “ paul.belliss@cairnindia.com
By way of background “ On leaving school in
1964 I joined the UK Atomic Energy Authority at a
time when the transfer of nuclear technology into
civil applications appeared to offer long term
solutions to power generation. Subsequently I
graduated in engineering and worked in nuclear
fuel reprocessing until in 1977 a hiatus in the
development of the nuclear industry in the UK
prompted my moving into the oil & gas industry. I
then worked for a British major oil company for 25
years and since then as a consultant HSE
manager for major oil and gas project and implimentations. In the oil
industry I was initially involved in mechanical
engineering, specialising in technical integrity of
pressure and fluid containment for onshore and
offshore facilities around the world. After the Piper
Alpha disaster in the UK North Sea in 1988 I
transferred into technical safety and subsequently
into HSE management for major project and implimentations. I am
presently working on a major onshore oil
development project and implimentation in India.
Since the late 1970â„¢s the expansion of nuclear
power generation has been almost at a stand-still
until relatively recently- following the emergence of
ABSTRACT
The views presented in this short paper are
entirely personal, drawn from own experience
and observations having worked since 1968 as
a professional engineer in the nuclear and
oil/gas energy industries in the UK and other
countries. I will briefly describe some aspects
that have struck me as important. Nothing
presented here is new except my personal
experiences and examples.
the spectre of global warming and fragility in the
supply of oil and gas. Both of these issues have
direct relationship to the previously continuously
increasing consumption of hydrocarbon fuels. It
may be borne in mind that sources of nuclear fuel
are no less limitless than hydrocarbon fuels and
both are probably unsustainable in the longer
term - at least for current nuclear power
technologies.
The hazards associated with
radioactive materials in the nuclear industry
demand a very high level of understanding and
control of hazards “ the foundation of safety in
design. Potential long term environmental and
health issues and the risk/consequences of major
accidents remain major challenges to the civil
nuclear industry, although the current crises may
have changed perceptions. No doubt lessons
have been learned from past major incidents,
including well recorded major incidents in the
USA, UK and Russia - that these major accidents
happened and the potential consequences of
such accidents provide fundamental lessons to all
engineers and the role of engineers in society. In
the 1970â„¢s the approach to safety in design did
not have the systematic depth and assurance of
today. The industry has also made great progress
in the application of the principles of inherent
safely to reactor design to eliminate some of the
potential failure modes of earlier designs “
foundation processes relating to all engineering.
On moving into the oil industry on assignment in
the Middle East the contrasts between the
industries appeared massive. What particularly
struck me was that construction work, often in
inhospitable environments, was (and still is)
carried out by a workforce characterised by its
diversity in terms of culture, language andPage 32

Journal of HSE & Fire Engineering
Issue 2 March 2009
Page 23
experience - the skills of the workforce has always
impressed me. There are great responsibilities on
management and supervision to deliver technical
integrity on project and implimentations whilst protecting the safety of
the workforce and the environment. In my
experience there has often been insufficient input
by engineering to minimise environmental and
occupational health and safety problems in the
construction stage. I will come back to this issue
again after considering some aspects of technical
safety.
Major accidents in industry have always attracted
my attention because they can represent failures
in the responsibility of engineers to protect people
and the environment. Major accidents in operating
plants happen with striking frequency “ typically
once a week somewhere in the world. With some
shocking exceptions, it has amazed me how so
many people escape serious injury or worse in
these accidents. I was involved in the investigation
of an explosion in an ethylene oxide (EO) plant in
Belgium in the early 1980â„¢s. A tower approximately
3 m diameter and 20 m tall exploded with pieces of
metal weighing up to 1 tonne (the weight of a small
car) being project and implimentationed up to 1 kilometer. Not a single
person was killed or even injured even though the
plant was in a highly developed area. Two other
Ëœthemesâ„¢ followed from this accident for me. Firstly,
the cause of the accident was not fully understood
on conclusion of the investigation even though
there had been no limits on the resources
available to discover them. A number of possible
causes were hypothesised and remedies identified
for each. The plant was put back into service after
the tower was replaced with one built from
stainless steel “ compared with the carbon steel
original. Over the subsequent few years I followed
a history of major accidents in the EO industry
around the world. After nearly a decade it was
conclusively determined that runaway reactions
had occurred due complex
polymerisation
catalysed by iron oxides originating from carbon
steel. In many major accidents the cause has not
been indisputedly identified.
In 1974 a
cyclohexane plant in the UK exploded with 24
deaths. As recently as 2007 the cause of the
accident has been subject of heated debate in
the engineering fraternity in the UK. In 1988 the
Piper Alpha disaster offshore in the UK sector of
the North Sea resulted in 168 deaths. The
platform was effectively destroyed by explosion
and fire with what few remains being on the sea
bed. A long and comprehensive investigation led
to a short list of possible causes. The preferred
hypothesis could never be confirmed because of
the death of the person attributed with error and
no physical evidence. It should also be noted that
investigation of major incidents has generally
identified multiple serious systemic failings which
have directly or indirectly led to the accident
Resulting from the Piper Alpha accident the
industry committed to a major programme of
safety analysis and remedial action across the
whole of the North Sea. I transferred from a
purely technical engineering role to a safety
engineering role to participate in this programme.
Engineering of
early
generation
offshore
installations in the North Sea had extrapolated
technology from shallow water designs from the
Gulf of Mexico, focused on functional needs and
was in an immature industry which had its roots in
onshore development of oil and gas. Processes
for safety in design were relatively undeveloped.
Significant progress has now been made in
understanding major accident hazards and their
effective controls but in the case of manned
offshore installations unless people are separated
from the hazards the installations have inherently
higher risk than onshore developments where
people are readily given separation from hazards.
After being responsible for implementation of a
programme of risk reduction measures for the
largest platform in the UK North Sea my next
project and implimentation was the development of a relatively small
new field near to an existing installation in the the
principles of inherent safety allows significant
reduction in risks. Development of the new field
could only be economic if it was connected into
the existing adjacent platform. A number of
inherent safety features were incorporated into
the Project. Oil from the new field required some
processing before being comingled with the
existing production stream. Page 33

Journal of HSE & Fire Engineering
Issue 2 March 2009
Page 24
Processing could have been carried out by
building an additional module onto the existing
platform or by building a new unmanned bridge
linked platform. Safety analysis was able to
demonstrate that the inherently safer option of the
bridge linked platform was justified and that
retrofitting a major module onto the existing
platform was untenable without shutting down
production for an extended period. A bridge 40 m
long was shown to effectively prevent a major fire
or explosion or fire on the new platform from
significantly affecting the existing platform. The
subsea oil pipeline from the wellheads to the
platform was within an outer pipe which also
incorporated chemical and water injection lines
and insulation for the oil line. This pipeline bundle
was built onshore and towed to the site “ a much
safer and less costly option than construction
offshore. The bundle also provided much greater
protection against the risk of damage by deep sea
fishing activities. Historically, pipelines have
suffered problems from external corrosion when
rising through the sea surface en route to the
platform. High temperatures of the production fluid
elevate the pipe temperature and enhance
corrosion risk. Another hazard to Ëœrisersâ„¢ is
presented by ship collision; many relatively low
energy collisions of supply boat with platforms
have occurred. Earlier, risers were often installed
well within the jacket of the platform because the
structure provided ready support; however, this
usually brought the hazards of the riser closer to
accommodation areas. To reduce hazards risers
were moved further away from accommodation
areas but potentially closer to areas at risk from
supply boat movements. For this project and implimentation a pipe-in-
pipe design for the riser was developed. This had
enhanced impact resistance and by insulating the
inner pipe the outer pipe was at low temperature
significantly reducing corrosion risk. Application of
the principles of inherent safety in this way
requires commitment by the client to provide the
time and resources necessary. Engineering
contractors are otherwise under great pressure to
complete the job at minimum cost and schedule.
This Project provided a demonstration that good
safety
(and
health
and
environmental)
performance = good business; this sometimes
requires additional investment but has the
potential to deliver greater benefits. As a footnote,
some 10 years later a further field was discovered
near the installation. A new module was installed
on top of the bridge linked platform enabling this
field to be tied in. Had the bridge linked platform
not been previously installed the later field could
not have been economically developed “ the
earlier decision to install the bridge linked
platform had been justified on safety grounds;
good HSE = good business.
Consideration of risk over the lifetime of a Project
“ from construction through operations, has been
of interest to me.
Risk to people is highly
dependent on exposure “ the man-hours
involved. In simple terms, the man-hours to build
a project and implimentation (typically 10 million man-hours), which
may take 2 to 3 years for an oil/gas development,
equates to the total man-hours to operate the
plant for the subsequent 20 to 30 years. A huge
amount of effort is now put into technical or
process safety which largely relates to safety for
operations “ although very importantly it can also
relate to the safety of the public if hazards extend
beyond the plant boundaries. However, much
less attention has been given to the occupational
risks of the construction stage. Industry safety
statistics eg as published by the International
Forum of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP), show
that occupational and non-process hazards are
the cause of most fatal accidents in the industry.
This requires much more attention by engineers
in the planning stages and offers great
opportunity to increase safety in the industry.
Process safety hazards remain a critical focus for
engineers because of the risk to operators and
possibly more importantly to the public. The worst
industrial disasters have been the horrendous
Chernobyl and Bhopal disasters in the mid 1980â„¢s
which mostly affected the public. In both cases it
has been postulated that human errors in
operations were the root causes, although in both
cases the lack if inherent safety significantly
affected consequences of the accidents.
In fact, human error can be said to be at the root
of all accidents, the responsibility of and
challenge to the engineer is to design a plant Page 34

Journal of HSE & Fire Engineering
Issue 2 March 2009
Page 25
which is inherently safe and does not rely on
operating procedures for critical safety and
significantly reduces the risk of human error.
Another factor of major disasters is the proper
consideration of such consequences at the
planning stage. Worst potential consequences
need to be identified in the concept stage and
proper consideration given to Ëœsocietal riskâ„¢. Again,
in simple terms, the question to be considered is -
can such consequences be lived with.
To jump to a hobby horse “ lack of differentiation
between safety and loss prevention. Safety affects
people whereas loss prevention is about physical
assets. Insurers and some operators may be more
concerned
about
assets
than
people.
Considerable attention is generally given to fire
protection. My observations are that, unless
carefully considered, this focus can lead to
increased safety risk and increased costs with
unreliable benefits. Construction, inspection and
maintenance of active fire protection systems all
entail risks to people. If fighting fires involves
exposing people to hazards the risks to people can
increase again. Passive fire protection is
potentially much more reliable, effective and safer
than active fire protection. Well considered hazard
management is
necessary
to
determine
appropriate design philosophies.
The progress in engineering process I have
referred to on a couple occasions appears to me
to be fragile. A well respected student of safety -
Professor Trevor Kletz, has famously proposed
that an organisation has no memory. This was
specifically made in relation to lessons learned
from incidents but appears to me to apply equally
well to progress on a wider scale. The role of
professional bodies, engineering institutes and
engineering Ëœhousesâ„¢ including consultants and
contractors is crucial in providing a Ëœcorporate
memoryâ„¢ in the rapidly changing world
.
I have focused on safety related issues but
similar issues relate to health and environmental
aspects. Engineering is a true source of
enhancement of quality of life and includes
elements of Ëœartâ„¢ not well understood without the
profession. However, engineers by virtue of their
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