Official figures released today by the Health and Safety Executive show that the number of hydrocarbon releases from installations on the UK Continental Shelf with the potential to cause a major incident has fallen. The HSE considers the number of hydrocarbon releases to be a strong indicator of how well the offshore oil and gas industry is managing major accident risks.

According to the HSE’s statistics, there were 73 major hydrocarbon releases during the year to 31 March 2011. This represents a reduction of around 17% from the previous year’s total of 85 major incidents and is in-line with the average over the previous five years. Importantly, it reverses a strong upward trend in the 2009/10 statistics, which showed an increase in major hydrocarbon releases of almost 40%.

Due to the high number of hydrocarbon releases in 2009/2010, the UK offshore oil and gas industry’s safety initiative, Step Change in Safety, set its members the target of reducing the number of reportable leaks by 50% over three years. The 2010/2011 statistics demonstrate real progress towards this target.

The HSE’s figures also show a 16% reduction in serious injuries to workers from the previous year, from 50 to 42. While the 2010/2011 figures are consistent with the average over the last five years, this may be considered a positive outcome against an estimated 4% increase in the number of offshore workers during the last year.

The ‘over 3-day’ injury rate has also reduced by 3.6%. This continues the downward trend since 2006/2007. Based on the increased workforce for 2010/2011, the current ‘over 3-day’ injury rate is 383.2 per 100,000 workers – a record low.

The head of offshore safety at HSE, Steve Walker, described the figures as “a step in the right direction” for the offshore oil and gas industry, but emphasised that the industry still had work to do.

Please click here for The Offshore Statistics Safety Bulletin 2010/2011