Big workers, small lifeboats

White Rose upgrading evacuation system

Moira Baird
Published on April 23, 2010
Big workers, small lifeboats

People are getting bigger and it's affecting everything from the size of airplane seats to how many offshore workers can fit into a lifeboat.

Offshore oil companies all over the world are upsizing their evacuation systems and ordering extra lifeboats for their production platforms, drill rigs and supply ships.

People are getting bigger and it's affecting everything from the size of airplane seats to how many offshore workers can fit into a lifeboat.

Offshore oil companies all over the world are upsizing their evacuation systems and ordering extra lifeboats for their production platforms, drill rigs and supply ships.

Husky Energy, which operates the White Rose oilfield off Newfoundland, is among them.

Lifeboats on Husky's SeaRose production ship that once accommodated 90 people now only hold 67 people.

The company said it's working to increase the number of lifeboats, and will submit a plan next month to the board that regulates the province's offshore oil industry.

"The more permanent solution is additional lifeboat capacity," said Trevor Pritchard, general manager of operations for Husky.

"Currently, we have three engineering solutions being assessed for the SeaRose."

The increased weight does not affect offshore travel by helicopter or supply boat.


Lifeboats and evacuation systems are designed according to an international convention known as Safety of Life at Sea (SOLAS).

It set an average passenger weight of 165 pounds (or 75 kg), and lifeboats and evacuation systems were designed with that weight in mind.

These days, people are generally larger.

The average weight of man working offshore is estimated at 216 pounds (98 kg), while the average woman is about 170 pounds (77 kg).

Those numbers come from a December 2008 report by the U.K. Health and Safety Executive (HSE) entitled "Big persons in lifeboats." (HSE is an independent watchdog for workplace health and safety issues in Britain.)

It suggested oil and gas installations place weight limits on the number of people in lifeboats or replace the lifeboat and launch system altogether with one designed for an increased load.

The Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) asked oil companies operating off in the province to examine their evacuation systems in light of the HSE findings.

The reason?

Offshore regulations say each installation must have: "two or more totally enclosed survival craft that have a combined carrying capacity of at least 200 per cent of the total number of persons on board the installation at any one time."


Husky assessed the weight of its offshore workers and the results were similar to the HSE findings - meaning the SeaRose no longer met the 200 per cent rule.

"We reviewed our databases and we averaged out at about 98 kilograms," said Pritchard.

In January, the company reduced the number of workers on its production ship from its usual complement of 90 people to 67. It also reduced crews aboard the drill rigs Henry Goodrich and the GSF Grand Banks.

This week, the CNLOPB's chief safety officer, Howard Pike, gave Husky a temporary exemption from the regulations - allowing it to have 90 workers on the SeaRose.

It also means the production ship will operate with 182 per cent lifeboat coverage.

"After review, analysis and consultation, the chief safety officer believes that the increased risks associated with the maintenance backlog and/or more frequent shutdowns outweigh the risks of returning to the 90 persons on board (POB)," said Pike's decision report.

The report noted an international certifying authority, Det Norkse Veritas, concurred with this assessment.

"With the current POB of 67, the operator will experience challenges conducting the optimal amount of maintenance work to maintain the integrity of the SeaRose," said Pike's report.

"The deferred maintenance could be addressed by more frequent shutdowns. But plant shutdowns and startups also increase risks. "

The decision came with three conditions:

Husky has until May 28 to submit a plan to permanently meet the regulatory requirement for 200 per cent lifeboat capacity. And its permanent solution must be in effect "no later than June 30, 2011."

Husky must conduct evacuation drills with all offshore workers specifically using the forward lifeboat - something it does not currently do.

Husky must also provide quarterly updates on its progress in increasing lifeboat capacity.

Pike was travelling outside the province and was not available for comment.


SeaRose currently has capacity for 550 people in lifeboats and liferafts. Using the larger average weights for offshore workers, that capacity has shrunk to 414 people.

The production ship currently has three enclosed, motorized lifeboats as part of its davit-launch evacuation system - two larger lifeboats aft, one smaller lifeboat located forward.

It also has 14 inflatable liferafts.

Pritchard said Husky's previous risk assessments only included the two larger lifeboats - one located on each side of the SeaRose and aft of the ship's blast wall.

Evacuation drills were usually done using the aft lifeboats.

"Whilst we operate a safe facility, we recognize that the lifeboat launch system didn't have the capacity for the number of people expected to go in them now.

"But the risk assessments that we had previously worked with only utilized the aft two boats. Until we could reassess with the third lifeboat up forward, we down-manned.

"Consequently, as those risk assessments have been re-analysed, we've been giving that kind of information back to offshore workforce to answer their questions," said Pritchard.

He said Husky has consulted with its joint occupational health and safety committee about the lifeboat issues.


Suncor Energy, which operates the Terra Nova oilfield, said it's not affected during normal production operations - it has plenty of lifeboat capacity for its 120 offshore workers.

"We're well within our capacity," said John Downton, spokesman for Suncor.

That may change this summer when the oilfield shuts down for scheduled maintenance.

To carry out the work, the company will need extra people onboard the Terra Nova production ship.

Downton said the company will also apply for a regulatory exemption from the CNLOPB to do that work.

"There's a very detailed assessment process that goes into making a submission like this."

That analysis would include a risk profile, which evaluates safety risks and identifies ways to reduce them.

"In a shutdown mode, where you're not producing hydrocarbons, your risk profile is different. That is a mitigating factor," said Downton.

Hibernia Management and Development Co. did not provide a response to The Telegram by deadline Thursday.