By Gregory Hale
Nothing good comes from a disaster, but if people and companies can learn not to let it happen again, then at least that is one positive.

That is what appears to be happening after the Piper Alpha disaster over 25 years ago and the BP Deepwater Horizon catastrophe four years ago. The positive signs came from a presentation Tuesday at the AIChE Spring Meeting and 10th Global Congress on Process Safety in New Orleans.

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Robin Pitblado of DNV GL talked about a conference held last year in the UK commemorating the 25th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea, which left 167 dead. At that conference Pitblado said there were presentations made that showed how much the industry has moved forward and appears to not be making the same mistakes. Piper Alpha was a gas platform destroyed in an explosion and the resulting oil and gas fires destroyed it on 6 July 1988. There were only 61 survivors. The total insured loss was $3.4 billion and at the time of the disaster, the platform accounted for 10 percent of North Sea oil and gas production.

“The Piper Alpha incident went escalating from a survivable event to an unsurvivable event very quickly,” Pitblado said. “There was an inquiry (after the incident) and many good things came out of the accident.”

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Pitblado went on to discuss other papers presented at the Alpha Piper conference like the one that talked about the Lord Cullen inquiry that said “no amount of detailed regulations could make up for deficiencies in the way safety is managed by operators.”

One of the things that also came out the Piper Alpha inquiries was the idea of the role humans play in the safety environment.

“In 1988, people didn’t talk about the human factors at all,” Pitblado said.

One of the outcomes since Piper Alpha occurred in 1988, has been a safer North Sea.

“Major incidents globally do continue at too high of a rate,” he said. “The North Sea had two total losses in the 1980s and has not had one since then.”

Piper Alpha happened over 25 years ago, but another major incident that occurred offshore is the infamous BP Deepwater Horizon incident. The company since that time is working to achieve greater levels of safety, said Steve Flynn, BP’s global head of Risk, Learning and Health Safety and Environment (HSE).

He said tools can end up applied throughout the corporation to lower levels of risk. He also knows safety is also an enabler to a more profitable corporation.

“A safe business is very much a successful business.” Flynn said.

One of the approaches BP does is it uses an operating management system (OMS), Flynn said.

In addition, among the many safety initiatives, BP has three levels of checks and balances. One is self verification, the other is assurance and the third level is audit.

During the four years since the incident in the Gulf of Mexico, Flynn said BP’s safety mantra has grown and evolved.

“There is still more to do,” he said, “this is a continuous journey for us and for the industry.

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