Reducing the dangers

Here, Ben Bennett examines some of the ways that technology is improving health and safety in the offshore oil and gas sector

Working in the offshore sector will never be free of potential hazards — undertaking dangerous work in such remote and wild locations makes risk an inherent part of the job. However, things have steadily been improving over the past few years: the industry’s three-year rolling average of non-fatal injuries per 100,000 workers fell from 430 in 2015 to 415 in 2016, according to Oil & Gas UK’s Health & Safety Report 2017 — the third lowest year on record.

The fall in offshore injuries can be attributed to a few factors, such as enhanced training and risk management, but one of the most significant has been the development and integration of new and superior technology sector-wide. In this article, I’ll look at a handful of the new advancements that are helping to make rigs a safer place to work. From digital solutions improving health and safety practices to automation reducing the risk of human error, there is plenty to consider.

Training simulations and VR technology
One of the most influential advancements in improving safety offshore has been the adoption of simulations to give workers first-hand experience of situations and conditions that would be difficult to replicate elsewhere.

For instance, in the past, training in how to use potentially hazardous heavy equipment could only be delivered on the job or at great expense on shore. But, accurate interactive simulations now enable operators to get hands-on practice with digital versions on a regular basis. Not only can this be delivered at a fraction of the cost, but training can easily be repeated when necessary, updated with the latest equipment, or customised to suit a specific environment.

The development of high-quality virtual reality (VR) technology in recent years has also opened up the door for even more immersive simulations. By using a VR headset, an offshore worker can gain experience as if they were there, rather than just looking at the simulation on a screen. This allows trainers to put staff into more realistic surrounds for even more effective situational learning. Whether the scenario is a simple safety inspection, vital maintenance work, or an emergency situation, workers can be trained with more immersion and accuracy than ever before.

Availability of real time data
Over the past few years, the availability of real time drilling data has saved the industry a lot of money by providing the information required for effective decision making, as well as helping to reduce instances of critical hole drilling problems. However, the integration of real time data into offshore operations has also aided in improving safety through better risk analysis and faster response times.

Thanks to more advanced sensor technology and enhanced connectivity between different systems and components, issues can be spotted and dealt with more quickly and even prevented. For instance, environmental sensors can spot a gas leak before a technician can smell it, so the issue can be dealt with before it becomes more of a risk. In addition, the latest machinery models contain sensors that will let the operator know when there is a problem automatically, ensuring repairs are carried out before a critical breakdown.

The next step for real time data is to make it more readily accessible. Emerging technologies, such as smart glasses, allow the user to get the information they need instantly through heads up displays and mixed reality. This means that they can work without the need to stop and check what the latest is when they are undertaking an important job. I expect these advancements to become more commonplace within industrial environments, like offshore rigs, over the next few years.

3D mapping offshore environments
When it comes to planning a refurbishment or upgrade on an offshore rig, it’s essential that you have the most accurate data available. And, rather than relying on user-created or paper-based plans, it’s now possible to use laser scanning to create a 3D model of a rig environment or a piece of equipment that is submillimetre in its precision.

Thanks to this, parts can be sourced or manufactured that will be ready to fit right away with little downtime or disruption. For an offshore rig that is based in a remote location, being able to have bespoke parts produced then delivered can ensure a lengthy installation process is avoided and regular safety standards can be maintained. What’s more, having a detailed 3D model can ensure workers are able to plan any maintenance jobs in advance, ensuring they don’t spend more time than they need to in an environment with heightened risk.

Automation reducing risks
I’ve already touched on how sensors can generate real time data on their own, but we’re now reaching a point in technology where further automation is possible. Because working on an oil rig can be such a highrisk job, many companies are looking into how they can reduce the dangers to their workforce by utilising autonomous technology to remove them from the equation all together.

For instance, inspecting and repairing a gas leak on board forces workers to enter a potentially hazardous area, such as the gas turbine modules, where human error could spell disaster for the entire rig. One solution to this issue could be to deploy an autonomous robot capable of carrying out repairs when a leak is detected. While this might sound a little advanced for current technology, you may be surprised to hear that a detection and repair robot will go into service on a North Sea rig later this year, as reported by The Guardian.

Another good example of automation making work safer offshore can be found in the introduction of iron roughnecks for connecting and disconnecting segments of pipe. Previously, this type of work would have been undertaken by workers using tongs, which carried an extremely high risk. However, thanks to the use of an iron roughneck, the job can be carried out remotely with almost no manual handling required.

As you can see, there are numerous ways that technology is pushing higher safety standards for offshore rigs, reducing the amount of risk that workers must expose themselves to. Over the next few years, I expect cutting-edge technologies like VR, real time data, and automation to continue reducing the danger involved in the industry.

Luminous Group
Ben Bennett is Managing Director at digital and VR specialists Luminous Group. Luminous Group is a reality capture specialist based in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, with a focus on 3D data scanning, building information modelling, and virtual reality (including VR training options). It has three dedicated services: Digital Surveys, Digital Architecture, and Digital VR, which offer turnkey solutions to businesses across a variety of sectors.

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