Posted by: Jaring | November 3, 2009

Safety Issues of Construction and Operation on Deep Marine Condition


Oil and gas industry becomes one of the most favorite industries which many people are attracted to work on it. However, it has also the most dangerous places as it deals with the exploration and production of flammable things. This paper discusses mainly construction issues on deep marine condition as one of location where the petroleum is explored and produced, more particularly is on aspect of safety. Discussion will not be only limited on construction phase, but also during operation phase once an offshore infrastructure has been constructed and installed. The discussion is started with general introduction about deep marine condition, specifically for offshore oil and gas industry. Furthermore, hazards and risks on offshore industry are discussed in quite detail manner including all aspects related to these two main aspects.

Keywords: Oil and gas, offshore, hazards and risks


Petroleum which supports most of human-daily-life on the earth could be found both on land and under an ocean. There are two common terms which describe the location of exploration and production of oil and gas, onshore and offshore. Onshore means a location on land where the petroleum is found and then be explored. When petroleum is found on an open sea then that location is called as an offshore area. Offshore industry is situated on sea which water depth could reach more than 2,000 meters. Later, this condition could be defined as the industry on deep marine condition.

Construction and operation on deep marine condition have significantly difference in comparison with usual project onshore or other non-oil and gas project. Installation of offshore infrastructure also involves numerous equipments, tools, labors, and money. For renting an accommodation and crane barge in a 24-hour rental time, renter could spend until USD 100,000. This number is for the smallest accommodation and barge for installing a new structural part of existing fixed platforms on offshore Indonesia. Then, it could be imagined what is the magnitude of dollars has to be spent out for larger project scale.

Severe working condition on offshore construction and operation brings the safety issue becomes paramount topic on all parts of the world where this industry is situated. Denton (1991) stated that the offshore industry presents a very unusual combination of problem from the safety point of view. They include:

–            High pressure systems up to 300 bar and sometimes to 500 bars;

–            A high (300 tons) inventory of explosive and flammable material;

–            Extensive electrical system, often at voltages as high as 6.6 kv;

–            Large scale machinery such as gas turbines, compressors and pumps;

–            All plant placed in a very confined space;

–            Living quarters necessarily very close to working plant;

–            Evacuation of personnel difficult if not impractical in the most adverse weather conditions;

–            Installations all individually designed to meet specific requirements;

–            Installation life of 20 to 30 years;

–            Installation necessarily modified during their life, for example to meet changes in field behavior.

Tragedy of Piper Alpha (1988) could give brief view about the importance of safety issue on offshore industry. Piper Alpha was the name of a platform for producing oil and gas located in the North Sea about 340 km east of Aberdeen in Scotland. This platform was destroyed in several hours following a series of explosions, killing 167 persons. A study done coordinated by Centre for Economics and Management stated that the accident led to production being stopped immediately, for several months, for five other fields, with a total loss of production of 300,000 barrel per day, representing 12% of the production of the North Sea. It was estimated at that time that the loss of exports amounted to ₤550 million in 1988 and ₤800 million in 1989, with a loss of tax revenue to the British government of ₤250 million in 1988-1989 and ₤520 in 1989-1990. This illustration certainly brings obvious magnitude of loss when an offshore accident occurs.

Identifying Hazards

Safety issues on deep marine construction needs to be taken into account by all stakeholders, oil company, engineering consultant, installation contractor and other parties. First step for concerning with safety issues is about the hazards identification. Wong (2002) defines hazard as anything that has a potential to cause harm (e.g. chemicals, fire, explosion, electricity, a hole in the ground and many others). Hazard has close relationship with risk which is the chance, high or low, that someone will be harmed by the hazard (Wong, 2002). Hazards could happen to humans, and hazards also come from machines and processes, emissions, radiations and others.

Hazards to Humans

During installation sequence at offshore site, there are quite a lot hazards that could happen to humans. One of them is skin contact by chemicals which have an immediate destructive effect. However, type of chemicals used during offshore installation or operation has no immediate destructive effect. They are harmful for humans’ skin, but not so destructive and could be prevented. For instance, various types of liquids for topside painting, oils used as lubricant for machines, crude oils, various types of chemical liquids used for operation purpose. Wong (2002) warned that damage from petroleum products to skin properties becomes one of hazards to human. It could trigger possible cancerous effects from long-term exposure.

Hydro test of piping on topside platform is also a type of hazard to human. High-pressure jets by air penetrations into the bloodstream can cause death. In addition, all materials nearby the hydro test area are also hazards to human. If there is a leak then compressed air from piping line would be very able to move all materials surrounding everywhere and they could hurt the people.

Eye contact by spray, mists, high vapor concentrations and harmful rays that can damage or destroy its tissues could be classified as hazards to human. Grinding activities during installation phase is one of sources of small particles that could hurt the people’s eye. Moreover, fire from welding activities is also harmful to worker including light occurred during welding.

Hazards from Machines and Processes

Hazards from machines and processes on deep marine construction condition usually come from crane and welding machine. Welding machines are situated on topside platform, they could be positioned at cellar, sub-cellar, or top deck. All those locations are very near to working location. Every workers will have possibility to direct contact with welding machines. High electricity voltage, hot surface and flammable fuels are the most hazardous parts of welding machines. Furthermore, once the platform has been commissioned and operated, there would be another hazard comes from processes itself. Improper installation and lack of maintenance of all parts of infrastructure for supporting the processes would be hazards.

Hazards from Emissions

Machines and engineered process plants produce waste streams, these are unwanted emissions. Emissions from process platform in offshore site come out from flare. The unwanted emissions are burnt out before they are released to the air. Carbon monoxide (CO) emitted from welding machines, power machines, crane, and others are released in the middle of working place. They are hazardous to workers’ health and need to be considered carefully. In addition, water pollutants come also from people activity in the accommodation barge. Some unwanted wastes from food have to be collected properly, they could not be thrown away directly to the sea. Other emission occurs in construction and operation on deep marine condition is noise emissions. Noise is an unwanted sound produced by working machinery and plant. It could be continuous, intermittent, or erratic, depending on the source. Noise could cause hearing damage to the people nearby noise’s sources. Ability for communication could be also affected by noise; therefore important consideration needs to be taken into account for designing control rooms or cabins.

During installation of structural parts of offshore platforms, welding could not be avoided. As a consequence, Non Destructive Test (NDT) is also required. For particular joints, NDT has to be performed using X-ray or radiography method. Radiation of from that activity is classified as an hazardous emission.

Hazards from Circumstances

Discussion on this part is intended for hazards that are not explained on previous parts. Wong (2002) explained that latent energies are hazards, which if released could pose danger to life and limb. Potential energy is one of latent energies, for example, people or loads failing from a height. Riggers during installation stage on deep marine condition are people who have the highest risks regarding to this hazards. They have to climb on particular height for assisting crane operator during moving and placing an object from one point to another. Moreover, lifted objects are those which have latent energies and all workers standing up on lifting region have risks. Other latent energies is kinetic energy release. It could be from explosions, release of moving components, due to failure of, for example, pressure vessels, components of engines and vehicles (Wong, 2002).

Dangers from electrical energy could be occurred due to live components, insulation problems, fault condition or residual stored energy. Competent engineers worked for this field have to ensure that all electricity sources are well maintained and well controlled during installation phase, as well as during operation stage of platform and construction of smaller parts on topside.

Fire, as the common hazard which could happen in all areas of life, could occur also in deep marine condition. Fire could present due to the presence of three components which are heat, fuel, and oxygen; therefore, fire could be prevented by separating or insulating each of those components. Fuels used on deep marine condition could be painting liquids, LPG, fuels for machines, and others.

The presence of many equipments, tools, machines, raw materials, structural parts, and the limitation of space of platform, working and transportation barges could create an entrapment for the worker working there. Situation involving fire, gas release or explosion could give risk to this danger (Wong, 2002). The worker could not escape to safer place when these situations are happening. Careful thoughts during design phase need to be done by the engineers and all stakeholders in order to arrange proper layout for positioning all parts involved during installation or operation phase of platform on deep marine.

Weather conditions in deep marine situation affect to the completeness of particular works. Sometimes due to bad weather, the workers have to leave their incomplete works. Without proper communication, next different workers will not understand the latest jobs condition left by their colleagues. This condition leads to a potential hazard. For example, a job for constructing scaffolding in a rehabilitation work at topside area. Scaffolder has to put specific tag on his incomplete job when he has to leave work site. The tag could be a sign that the scaffolding structure could not be used. On the following day, other workers will notice not to use the scaffolding structure since there is a tag there and other scaffolder could continue for constructing the scaffolding structure until finish and finally he could put a tag which informs that the structure of scaffolding is ready to be used.

Finally, humans make mistakes. The risk of human error could be reduced by doing everything. Formalization of work practices and the provision of engineering controls might reduce the risk of human error. Well-trained workers and daily safety briefing in deep marine construction are a requirement and activity for reducing the risk for human error also. In addition, proper crew change on a particular time periodic has to be done for avoiding work-stress of workers. Furthermore, on living quarter, enough entertainment facilities has to be provided and sport equipments as well.

Safety Integration

Knowing or identifying hazards have been presented on previous parts of this paper. This section mainly discusses how to deal with the resulting risks. Wong (2002) gave a hierarchy of preference to hazard risk control, which is:

  1. Alter the design to avoid the hazard;
  2. Provide facilities to reduce the risk from the hazard by design;
  3. Provide procedures to protect exposed persons;
  4. Provide means for personnel protection.

Safety integration is the provision in a design to provide risk control of hazards (Wong, 2002). In ideal condition, hazards could be minimized by design in accordance with the hierarchy stated before. In a particular condition, for instance, in offshore industry which deals with petroleum (flammable) materials, fire and explosion could not be avoided. But risk of fire and explosion will be specific to particular area of platform. The designer who design layout of platform has to consider these hazards. For instance, by designing layout of platform which locate away the building facilities (office, store, and workshop). In addition, computerized control room, CCTV control centre and storage tanks with flammable fluid could also be situated far away from process area. In particular, since the control room has to close to hazards, the designer could design that kind of room fire and blast proof. It could be also equipped with suitable means of escape way for operators.

Safety Culture

Nature of business in deep marine condition, particularly in offshore oil and gas industry brings safety culture to be penetrated to each worker’s brains. It has been widely known that people could not be changed and that therefore the work conditions have to be changed accordingly. However, there is still a possibility to engineer systems that could reduce the risk of human error, experience has shown that this is not enough. Worker’s attitude has to be changed. A safety culture has to be created, which is the purpose of the regulations on managing risk (Wong, 2002). All stakeholders involved in deep marine industry have to have established safety policy. Those include oil company as the operator of the offshore field, consultant which designs everything and contractors which install the infrastructure. Safety policy on each those parties could be different; therefore, a meeting coordination has to be held before the project commencement in adjusting and combining safety policies on each company into global safety policy that would be implemented on particular project.


Safety policy determined would not effective in implementation without control. There are two common terms usually used for controlling safety and reliability, these are Quality Control (QC) and Quality Assurance (QA). Quality has no meaning unless there is a means of measuring it, with limits set as to what is acceptable and not acceptable (Wong, 2002). QC is the act of measuring quality; meanwhile QA is the act of verifying that it has been carried out. Another way to control the implementation of safety policy is by implementing a system of permit to work. Every single work done in offshore has to get permit from the authorized people. Usually there is a company man who represent the Oil Company. Every day, supervisor will collect information about what activity will be performed on the next following working day. After he collected it then together with safety officer they will approach the company man for getting approval of proposed works.


Working in deep marine condition involves many things to be considered, especially the aspect of safety. Weather condition, nature of works and involvement of huge project budget are only several points from many others points that safety becomes paramount matter that could not be ignored at all. Enforcement of safety in deep marine condition has to be started since the project design phase, installation or construction and during the operation stage. First thing that has to be performed is identifying the hazards and risks. Once the possible hazards and risks have been identified, the next following action needs to be performed is to establish a safety integration among the stakeholders of the project. It could be done by reinforcing safety culture and establish safety policies. In addition, control of all things established before is mandatory to ensure that everything is going to work well and meet the arranged scenarios.


Wong, William.. 2002. How Did That Happen? Engineering Safety and Reliability. London, UK: Professional Engineering Publishing Limited.

AA Denton, MA. 1991. Quality management offshore. Proceedings of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers. Beccles, Suffolk: Waveney Print Services Ltd.

Singapore, November 3, 2009

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  1. useful posting about safety

    • thanks for visiting my blog 🙂

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