Jul 20, 2019 Learning from Experience - 31 Years after Piper Alpha Disastrous Accident

Learning from Experience - 31 Years after Piper Alpha Disastrous Accident

Learning from Experience - 31 Years after Piper Alpha Disastrous Accident

On Saturday, July 6, 2019, the world marked the 31stanniversary of the disastrous Piper Alpha accident when the North Sea oil fieldoperated by Occidental Petroleum was engulfed in a fire, which led to death of165 men out of 226 personnel on board and 2 men on board a rescue vessel (Cullen,1990). 
The incident has remained one of Scotland’s most horrendous disasters inoil and gas history. People gathered at Hazlehead Park for an act ofremembrance since the explosion that killed 167 people on the North Sea oilrig. Thy observed a minute silence and laid wreaths at the garden’s iconic three-mannedstatue.
Piper Alpha survivor and Chairmanof the Pound for Piper Trust, Steve Rae, said: “We’re here to remember the 167souls we lost that fatal night and ensure we keep their memory alive today”. Thetotal insured loss was estimated to be around £1.7 billion, making it one ofthe costliest man-made catastrophes ever.
Text Box http3kbo302xo3lg2i1rj8450xjewpenginenetdna-cdncommaritimeblogwp-contentuploads200709piper-alpha-beforejpgcws_a2bc1Piper Alpha before fireJPG  

Piper Alpha disaster occurred due to gas leakage from one ofthe condensate pipes at the platform. Pressure safety valve of thecorresponding condensate-injection pump was removed during the day as part theroutine maintenance of the pump. The open condensate pipe was temporarily sealedwith two blind flanges. The temporarydisc cover, however, remained in place during shift-change in theevening, as maintenance work was not complete. The condensate-injection pump was not supposed to be switched on underany circumstances.

Youcan watch a 4 minutes short video about Piper Alpha here! https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:6554622350824873985 

Highlights of the failures, fromCullen’s 1990 report

1.   We cannot attribute Piper Alphaaccident to ‘an act of God’. It was purely an accumulation of management errors.It started from poor risk assessment, poor handover/change management, poor designdecisions, unreported safety events, production expansion decisions, personnelmanagement challenges and delayed response to inspection maintenance recommendations. 
2.   Poor engineering design, whichallowed the fire to propagate rapidly from production modules to criticalcenters such as control and radio room. In fact, electric power generation,public address, general alarm, emergency shutdown, fire detection andprotection systems failed shortly after the first explosion. 
3.   Poor training of the emergencyresponse team leadership and members; unclear delineation of responsibilities andlack of alternate evacuation strategies coupled with poor location of lifeboatsand life rafts. 
4.   Unavailability of smoke hoodsin the living accommodation shortened the available time that the personnelwould have had otherwise to make escape decisions.

a)   Personnel responsible fordecision making on fields, rigs and constructions should be properly identifiedat all times.
b)  Safety engineering designs haveimproved but effort must always be made to ensure that all changes infacilities pass through the required approval stages of design and riskassessments before implementation.
c)   ‘Reverse Safety Culture’ shouldnever be allowed to gain prominence in organization. Rewarding maximumproduction performance at the expense of HSE in the long run subtly affectspositive safety culture in an organization.
d)  Maintenance and inspectionactivities actions should always be given priority to prevent potentialincident.
e)  Emergency team members must be properlytrained. Personnel in positions requiring specific certification such asCoxswain must be certified with adequate redundancy in case of unavailabilityof the nominated personnel.
f)    Downgraded situations should never be treated like a normalsituation. It has to be given utmost attention to ensure very quick resolution.
g)   Sustained training on criticaltools and processes such as permit to work (PTW), risk awareness & prevention(RAP), anomaly/incident reporting, etc. must be enforced for all relevantpersonnel by management.
h)  Learning from previousincidents and experiences should be institutionalized within the organizationto ensure constant reminders of the lessons learnt and to prevent recurrence ofincidents due to similar causes. 

TOTAL EP is an oil and gas producing company, with the main objective of producing O&G safely in all circumstances. However, there is no particular golden rule to manage production and safety trade-offs. Employees therefore generally rely on the ‘tone from top’ which encapsulates the safety culture of the organization in making the critical decisions in the day-to-day activities on different field locations, construction sites and offices.

Text Box Quote There is no particular golden rule to manage production and safety trade-offs Employees therefore generally rely on the tone from top which encapsulates the safety culture of the organization 
Furthermore, the UK Health andSafety Executive (HSE) said in April 2019 it had written to all oil and gasoperators expressing concern about the number of gas releases in the industry.In TUCN, we also have a major role to ensure the integrity of productionfacilities and export lines are proactively maintained to eliminate thepotential for unplanned gas releases in our operations. Lastly, although sadly, we stillhave a lot recurrent incidents from previous causes but the oil and gascompanies have learnt massively from the previous incidents. Improvements havebeen seen and made on onsite responsibilities for decision making, improvedhandover management, change management strategies, better management of preventive/correctivemaintenance, safer engineering designs and so on, but the challenge remains forconsistency across all sectors, zero tolerance to complacency and ensuringpersonnel at all levels have a good safety culture. In summary, company management andpersonnel must ensure that they obey all safety rules and regulations at alltimes to prevent incidents. Management and employees must continue to see “working safely” as the responsibility of all members ofthe organization and not just a management slogan. 


1.http://3kbo302xo3lg2i1rj8450xje.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/maritime/blog/wp-content/uploads/2007/09/piper-alpha-before.jpg?cws_a2bc=1(Accessed: 02 July 2019).
2.http://www.offshore-technology.com/features/feature-the-worlds-deadliest-offshore-oil-rig-disasters-4149812/ (Accessed: 02 July 2019).3.https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/2/27/Piper_Alpha_oil_rig_fire.jpg(Accessed: 02 July 2019).
4.J. R. Petrie, "PiperAlpha Technical Investigation Interim Re­port" (Department of Energy,Petroleum Engineering Division, London England, 1988) (Accessed: 02 July 2019).
5.M. E. Pate-Cornell "A Post-mortem Analysis of thePiper Alpha Accident: Technical and Organizational Factors" (Report no.HOE-92-2, Department of Naval Architecture and Offshore Engineer­ing,University of California, Berkeley, September 1992) (Accessed: 02 July 2019).
6.M. E. Pate-Cornell, "Fire Risks in Oil Refineries:Economic Analysis of Camera Monitoring," Risk Analysis 5, 277-288(1984) (Accessed: 02 July 2019).
7.The Hon. Lord Cullen, The Public Inquiry into the Piper Alpha Disaster, Vols. 1 and 2(Report to Parliament by the Secretary of State for Energy by Command of HerMajesty, November 1990) (Accessed: 02 July 2019).