This year marks the 25th Anniversary of the Piper Alpha Disaster. On 6 July 1988 a huge leakage of gas condensate ignited, causing an explosion and leading to several large fires. Of those on board the North Sea installation, 167 people died. In terms of loss of life, Piper Alpha was the world’s largest offshore oil disaster.

The incident sparked an overhaul of offshore safety, with operators responding by:

  • Improving the ‘permit to work’ management systems;
  • Relocating some pipeline emergency shutdown valves;
  • Installing subsea pipeline isolation systems;
  • Mitigation of smoke hazards;
  • Improving evacuation and escape systems; and
  • Initiating Formal Safety Assessments (re. identification and assessment of hazards).

A public enquiry, chaired by Lord Cullen, was also undertaken. The report laid down around 106 recommendations, all of which were accepted by the industry. The key health and safety recommendations provided for:

  • A single regulatory body for offshore safety (responsibility had previously been split between various entities). The HSE was appointed and the HSE Offshore Division created. The HSE legal departments also framed safety case regulations; and
  • A safety case system whereby all operators/owners of fixed and mobile installations in UK waters (‘duty holders’) are required to submit a Safety Case to the HSE for approval to demonstrate that: (a) the safety management system of the company and the installation are adequate to ensure that the design and operation of the installation and its equipment are safe; (b) the potential major hazards of the installation and the risk to personnel have been identified and appropriate controls provided; and (c) there is adequate provision for ensuring a safe haven for personnel in a major incident, including safe and full evacuation, escape and rescue. This system is now provided for in The Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations 1992.

Industry organisation Oil & Gas UK is hosting a three-day Piper 25 conference from 18-20 June 2013. The event aims to reflect on the lessons learned from the tragedy, review the evolution of offshore safety and reinforce industry commitment to continuous improvement.