Hibernia lifeboat changes 'rubber stamped': workers

Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Figure: The Hibernia GBS

Workers on the Hibernia platform say they are not as safe as they could be on the rig as a result of the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) allowing reduced lifeboat capacity at the site.

Sheldon Peddle, a rig worker and co-chair of the joint occupational health and safety committee, said an exemption to a regulation requiring the rig to have 200 per cent lifeboat capacity - enclosed survival craft with space for at least twice the total number of people on board - creates a "very serious deficiency" at Hibernia.

The permanent exemption was requested by Hibernia Management and Development Co. (HMDC) on April 8.

It was granted by the CNLOPB's chief safety officer July 29.

Under the Atlantic Accord, the chief safety officer may modify a regulatory requirement if he/she is satisfied the change "will provide a level of safety equivalent to that provided by the original regulatory requirement."

Peddle said he feels the lifeboats exemption was "rubber stamped" by the regulator, does not meet the existing legislation and sets a "poor example" for safety regulation.

He has claimed the CNLOPB is "making excuses for the operator" when it comes to providing lifeboat capacity.

He said the decision regarding lifeboats on Hibernia should be reviewed immediately by the CNLOPB and, while a separate safety regulator would be a long-time coming, a stronger safety arm within the CNLOPB should be pursued.

Outside of internal discussions with Hibernia management, the regulator is the only real avenue for worker complaints relating to safety, Peddle said.

The CNLOPB has defended its approval of the regulatory exemption.

"Worker safety is the top priority of the CNLOPB. If the (CNLOPB's) chief safety officer or the experts at the certifying authority, Lloyds Register, had advised the CNLOPB that new or additional lifeboats were necessary, the CNLOPB would have acted on that advice immediately," stated spokesman Sean Kelly this week, following questions from The Telegram.

"The chief safety officer gave careful consideration to worker comments that new or additional lifeboats be installed on the Hibernia platform."

Dissent over decision

In the regulator's original statement on the exemption, Kelly said a review of the proposed changes by Hibernia management indicated any retrofit of lifeboats or addition of new lifeboats would include "a great deal of uncertainty and some risk."

Yet, in a formal statement of dissent, now filed with the CNLOPB, the rig's joint occupational health and safety committee has challenged there is a greater risk in not making the changes to increase capacity.

Peddle has acknowledged having less than a 200 per cent evacuation capacity for a rig like Hibernia is not unprecedented. However, he objected to the comparisons to operationss in other jurisdictions, like Norway and the United Kingdom, where they use different, more reliable, lifeboat systems or require more lifeboat capacity near temporary refuge areas.

As well, while chief safety officer Howard Pike referenced the Atlantic Canada Offshore Petroleum Industry's "Escape, Evacuation and Rescue Guide" in his decision, Peddle said this guide was developed without the input of offshore workers.

Management standing behind changes

For its part, Hibernia's operator, HMDC, has not indicated it has any plans to reconsider the rig's lifeboats. On Friday, public affairs manager for HMDC, Margot Bruce O'Connell, was asked if Hibernia management was aware of the continuing objections of rig workers to the latest changes.

"We have a very active joint occupational health and safety committee so any concerns are shared with us and discussed through the work of the committee," she stated.

As when the exemption was first granted, O'Connell said the safety of Hibernia's workforce and the public stands as a top priority for HMDC.

"We have more than adequate lifeboat capacity to ensure the safety of our offshore personnel and the CNLOPB concurs with our proposal for emergency evacuation," she said.

The review of the number and layout of lifeboats aboard Hibernia followed the release of a U.K. Health and Safety Executive from 2008 titled "Big persons in lifeboats." The study found the standard measure for a person, used to calculate the number of people a lifeboat can carry, was flawed. People are larger than expected by the standard and require more space, meaning fewer can be seated per boat.

Hibernia's enclosed craft were designed to hold 72 people, but were found to actually hold 54. With 280 people being allowed on Hibernia while it's producing oil, existing capacity does not cover the 200 per cent rule and therefore either an exemption or change in lifeboat type and/or number was required.

As part of the awarding of its requested regulatory exemption, Hibernia management has to submit a revised safety plan to the CNLOPB.



Organizations: Hibernia, Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, Atlantic Canada Offshore Petroleum Industry U.K. Health and Safety Executive

Geographic location: Norway, United Kingdom

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Recent comments

  • Ed .LeDrew
    November 26, 2011 - 18:08

    Since confederation Newfoundlanders have been treated as second class citizens by Ottawa and Upper Canadians,they take but do not give. Born in the Dominion of Newfoundland,not a Canadian by choice. Signed a proud Newfoundlander

  • Worked in the Regulatory Industry
    November 26, 2011 - 16:44

    I've worked in the Marine safety industry for years....dealing with canadian and International regulatory departments. The marine safety industry is a scary place. Lifeboats are a last thought when dealing with offshore. Between lack of training and the actual equipment used it would terrify people to see some of the things I've seen. More people need to take a vocal interest in their own safety at sea and stop depending on the "Officials" back on land to tell them they're safe.

  • Sick of how Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are treated
    November 26, 2011 - 12:12

    The lives of Newfoundlanders and Labradorians have never being as much a priority with Ottawa and the Corporations, as have been the lives of the other Canadian citizens. Neither has the creation of an economy with jobs and infrastructure out of own endowment of natural resources. Every other Canadian had to be taken care of before the people, who brought to Canada an enormous amount of natural resources and a strategic geographic position that is unmatched in Canada. Shame on You Canada. Things will have to change if you don't want another downgrade by Transparency International.

  • Laughboats
    November 26, 2011 - 11:47

    "the chief safety officer may modify a regulatory requirement if he/she is satisfied the change "will provide a level of safety equivalent to that provided by the original regulatory requirement." The lifeboat capacity exemption should have been denied on this basis alone. In what world is 200% equal to 167%, 150%, or 125%? How does a reduction in the number of available lifeboat seats offer the same level of safety? Have we not learned anything from past disasters such as the Ocean Ranger? The 200% coverage rule was a finding from that incident. Now here we are, almost 30 years later making the same mistakes...

  • Gerry Wells
    November 26, 2011 - 07:25

    Not enough life boats, helicopters that fall from the sky, hmmm I guess you dont have a union. Walk off the job for a week and see how things would change.......ahhh then again the workers are just as greedy as management.