Piper 25 Conference - Aberdeen June 2013

An outstanding and memorable international event.

01 July 2013

With the aim that presenters and 750 participants should reflect, review, reinforce and re-energise what was learned from the Piper Alpha disaster on 6 July 1998. These aims were achieved thanks to a superb mix of international speakers, some who were involved in the event or its aftermath, though one at least was wasn’t then born.

There’s a new DVD to remind us how poor some of the typical designs, operational practices and emergency response were 25 years ago, and of the heroism of those trying to cope with these deficiencies. This was launched with simultaneous viewings at the conference, the linked 500-participant Workforce Involvement day and at UK-sector offshore facilities and onshore offices. The next day, actors recreated some similar conditions before and during the Macondo and Fukushima events with frightening reality, reinforcing how hard it is to eradicate the opinion ‘that couldn’t happen here’.

Key requirements for successfully managing major hazards that emerged throughout the 3-day event included:

  • Leadership, of course from the top, but also throughout an organisation.
  • A well-resourced, competent, challenging and independent regulator. These characteristics are inter-dependent, none can be omitted or diluted with impunity.
  • Willingness to listen and learn, especially via an engaged workforce, but also from outside experience – for example other organisations, sectors, jurisdictions.
  • Competent people, including all those who provide OSH advice or services – and OSH includes both process safety (prevention of major incidents) and personal safety (health was not included in this specific event).
  • Constant vigilance, seeking for bad news as well as good.
  • A bias to simplicity, rather than complexity, but also ensuring and respecting deep expertise. Also a bias to evidence-based practices, confirmed by reality checks, rather than opinion-based.

The conference presentations are no longer available online but you can watch the Step Change Remembering Piper film on YouTube. There were two IOSH presentations, on Process Safety Peer Review (i.e. learning from and with other hands-on operations staff, Gordon Sellers) and Competence (Luise Vassie).

IOSH is actively working to improve its current low profile in the UK offshore oil and gas sector; we welcome your thoughts and suggestions on this.

Ian Waldram, Offshore Group

Gordon Sellers, Hazardous Industries Group