Australia’s offshore regulator issues Direction to Woodside after platform fatality

Australia’s offshore regulator has issued a General Direction to Woodside Energy, mandating the operator comply with certain requirements following the accidental death of a contract worker on its North Rankin platform earlier this month.

Vertech Group rope access technician Michael Jurman on 2 June lost his life in the fatal accident, which is understood to have occurred as he was performing a high-risk task on the outside of the platform.

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety & Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema) direction, issued by the regulator’s head of division — safety and integrity, instructs Woodside to implement additional risk reduction control measures to ensure that all rope access and/or rigging and/or lifting requiring the use of clamps of any kind for operations at the North Rankin Complex facility are conducted in a safe manner.

A fault-based breach of a Nopsema direction carries a potential five-year jail term for a guilty individual.

The operator must also, as soon as reasonably practicable, conduct an independent review of all systems, processes and operations that may involve rope access and/or rigging and/or lifting requiring the use of clamps of any kind for operations at the North Rankin Complex facility to assist in ensuring the safety of personnel involved or affected by such operations.

This review must be performed by a company that is independent of Woodside and its contractors and has been agreed by Nopsema.

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The offshore regulator wants the review to reference industry best practices and identify any gaps with the facility’s existing work practices whether by the operator or its contractors. The review should also include recommendations for remedial actions for implementation to address any gaps that are identified.

Until the remedial actions identified are implemented to Nopsema’s satisfaction, Woodside has to submit a written report by close of business every Wednesday or other intervals agreed to by Nopsema, describing details of all implemented additional risk reduction control measures and a justification for the adequacy of those controls to provide for safe work, noted the regulator.

Timeline of events

Nopsema on 2 June received an initial notification report from Woodside of an incident at the North Rankin Complex. Later the same day, the Australian operator advised Nopsema that a person had suffered fatal injuries while performing maintenance work at height.

The offshore regulator immediately launched an investigation into the incident, which is still ongoing.

Following the tragedy, Woodside on 2 June issued a standing order to all its operated assets in Australia to stop rope access activities — unless approved by a Woodside offshore/onshore installation manager (OIM) with a level 2 risk assessment — until the incident was further understood via investigation.

This standing order was subsequently revised, and Woodside on 4 June prohibited multi-directional screw clamp usage.

The operator five days later advised Nopsema that the standing order was revised to provide additional guidance on the controls required for rope access and rigging or lifting activities, and the prohibition on multi-directional screw clamp usage was specifically applied to rigging or lifting activities.

Nopsema itself on 8 June issued a safety bulletin to highlight the risks of work involving the rigging, manipulation and movement of loads, including people and equipment.

“This relates to a concerning trend being observed in industry where an increasing number of incidents can be linked back to insufficient assessment of risks such as stored energy, exclusion zones, line-of-fire and incorrect equipment selection or improper use,” commented the authority.

“These risks significantly increase when circumstances change during the execution of the job and no further risk assessment is undertaken.”

Nopsema added that it expects the general principles set out in the safety bulletin will be revisited by industry, which may improve identification of risks and the implementation of effective controls for these kinds of activities.