‘Tragic reminder’: Australian offshore regulator reacts to fatality on Woodside platform

The death of a contractor on Woodside Energy’s North Rankin Complex offshore Western Australia early this month provided a tragic reminder of the risks of work involving the rigging, manipulation and movement of loads, including people and equipment, according to offshore regulator Nopsema.

Investigations are under way after Vertech Group rope access technician Michael Jurman on 2 June lost his life on the North Rankin platform. The contractor is believed to have been carrying out a high-risk task on the outside of the platform at the time, The West Australian reported.

“A concerning trend is 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 National Offshore Petroleum Safety & Environmental Management Authority (Nopsema) in a Hazardous Offshore Work Safety Bulletin.

“These risks significantly increase when circumstances change during the execution of the job and no, or insufficient, risk reassessment is done.”

Australia’s offshore regulator said that while it would take time before root causes of incidents are established, some general principles should be revisited by industry, as these may improve the identification of risks and implementation of effective controls.

Federal legislation imposes duties on operators, persons in control of particular work at a facility and employers at a facility to take “all reasonably practicable steps” to protect persons at the facility from risks to their health and safety.

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Nopsema added that it expects that processes will be overseen by executives at the top of the respective organisation, including them using audits and verification to ensure the effectiveness of the process that will result in safe work in all activities.

“We are taking all steps to understand the circumstances around this tragic event and are cooperating closely with Western Australian Police and the National Offshore Petroleum Safety & Emergency Authority in their ongoing investigations,” Woodside chief executive Meg O’Neill earlier said.

“Any loss of life is heartbreaking.”

Vertech Group managing director Tom Brennan said Jurman was “a humble, caring, genuine guy, who brought a positive attitude to every team he was a part of. He had a beautiful attitude to life, and he was well thought of by those around him”.

“Michael was passionate about rock climbing and caving which naturally led him to excel and love rope access. He enjoyed music, having played in a symphonic orchestra as a violist for 13 years,” said Brennan.

Another Woodside executive told reporters that it was too early to determine what had led to the death of the contractor but promised the company would “learn” and “change” to ensure it did not happen again.

In the wake of the fatal accident, Western Australia Police flew to the North Rankin platform to conduct their investigations, while Nopsema mobilised a team of experienced investigators and reportedly issued a “do not disturb” notice to Woodside.

The Offshore Alliance (OA) union took to social media to pay tribute to their “fallen brother” Jurman.

“A gentler soul you couldn’t meet, and the offshore community is grieving for a life which has been lost way too early. RIP brother,” said a statement from the OA.