Hibernia lifeboat changes 'rubber stamped': workers

Ashley Fitzpatrick afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com
Published on November 26, 2011
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.