Mitigating against the unseen risks to keep people and assets safe

Mitigating against the unseen risks to keep people and assets safe

By Megan Hine, UK Business Development Manager Clean Energy, Dräger Marine and Offshore


Managing onshore and offshore assets and the risks that come with protecting not only the structure but the people, is one of the most important challenges in this dangerous industry.

But that challenge is not something we should run away from, it’s something we should embrace. After all, it’s too late to react once an incident has taken place, regardless of the outcome. The 2022 Dräger UK Safety at Work Report found 41% of respondents were concerned about a major incident occurring in their workplace. It also found 16% felt less safe, rising to one in five of people working in oil and gas.

While in the grand scheme of things it’s straightforward to identify obvious hazards that can lead to the likes of slips, trips and falls, the unseen dangers such as gas can be incredibly difficult to detect. There is a large education piece required across the industry relating to the energy transition as there are new risks that people aren't necessarily aware of.

Following major offshore incidents which unfortunately resulted in a significant loss of life, we have experienced a gas detection revolution. The industry moved away from catalytic bead to infrared sensors as it’s an optical based detection method that is fail safe, meaning the device will alert you when it can't detect gas. The alternative is fail to dangerous, so-called because it cannot tell when it can't detect gas any longer, whether that is down to a system failure, or something as straightforward as the wind taking gas in another direction. That could lead to the conclusion that everything is fine, with the dangers of that being clear for all.

However, the infrared method of detection is not possible with hydrogen because it doesn't interact with infrared, so suddenly we are back in a scenario where all we can use is catalytic bead detectors – unless new technology with a fail-safe point detection method is developed.

There is a lot of research going on within Dräger and other companies to establish how hydrogen behaves versus methane and the risks we're all used to and how they're going to change, and the outcomes of that research could lead to a change in our behaviour or detection methods.

There is an element of excitement to being at the forefront of something and trying to discover how to best keep people safe. When that solution is finalised, there are going to be two stages of adoption.

There is going to be the blending phase where people are introducing hydrogen as a percentage to existing hydrocarbon fuel sources to try to reduce the emissions from those sources. It is very much like how we've gone to E10 from E5 with fuel for cars. The second element will be when we move to 100% hydrogen, especially for industrial heat sources.

It's really exciting to be there to have these conversations with people that are engineering the future, and we are there to try to make sure they engineer it well and they engineer it safely. We are working as part of a much larger system within the industry, which reinforces that idea of collaboration.

Dräger’s focus is on the containment system and whether that has been breached, and the knock on impact that can have. Of course, a gas release could come to nothing, but there is clearly a risk of fire – or explosion – which can happen quite easily with hydrogen compared to methane or other hydrocarbons.

Regardless of the potential results of a gas leak, a breaching of containment of the process system and the after-effects of that means a process system has already failed, and therefore the danger is increased. We have to ensure that danger is minimised as much as possible so we don’t have to rely on contingency measures such as shutting down the plant, evacuating the area and ensuring the fire suppression system and process works.

It is imperative that organisations throughout the energy sector work together to ensure efficiencies are achieved, both in terms of cost and time – if a job over-runs and people are on assets for longer than required, then there are potential safety risks. So, collaborating with trusted partners and advisors is crucial to success.

At Dräger Marine and Offshore we have been able, within the early stages of jobs, to avoid any lost time caused a gas release or alarms going off on the platform, as well as been able to detect risks platform operators weren’t aware they had, putting a solution in place before any personnel were potentially put in danger.

In one example, our systems were able to detect benzene before there was a risk to personnel, meaning that because the solution was put in place early, any disruption to the customer's operations was avoided. Prior to that system being in place, the asset would have had to shut down each time there was an alarm. That would have led to an investigation being carried out, leading to a potential shutdown, which would cost hundreds of thousands of pounds.

We are also able to conduct gas sampling exercises to log the levels that are being picked up, therefore able to protect those on board to better effect in the immediate timeframe, but also further down the line as they will identify trends of when gas could appear in the atmosphere.

As well as protecting the current generation, we – as an industry – need to ensure we are protecting the next generation. Dräger Marine and Offshore is a company geared towards ensuring the future is sustainable and we want the people that come into the energy industry in the years to come to look back and praise the work we have done.

Protecting the integrity of our assets against unseen dangers, today, tomorrow and long into the future is vital to doing that. And working with trusted advisors throughout every aspect of operations will ensure that happens.

Read the latest issue of the OGV Energy magazine HERE

Published: 09-03-2023

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