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More concerns over evacuation

Freefall lifeboats on platforms operated by StatoilHydro were withdrawn from service at the start of 2009. Faults in their release mechanism have created fresh uncertainty about such craft on the NCS.

The Norwegian authorities take a serious view of yet another exposure of faults and deficiencies in this means of evacuation, and of further doubts being raised at its effectiveness.

An inquiry was launched by the PSA after it was notified in January about a series of incidents when replacing lifeboats on Veslefrikk in the North Sea and Kristin in the Norwegian Sea.

With StatoilHydro conducting its own investigation, the PSA’s report on these events will be published at www.ptil.no as soon as it becomes available.

A number of serious problems with freefall lifeboats on installations in the North and Norwegian Seas were identified during the summer of 2005.

The OLF accordingly established a project to rectify the position, and a large number of full- and model-scale tests identified a range of weaknesses in design and materials choice.

Later work in the programme also assessed factors affecting passenger safety during launching – gravity forces, seats, harnesses, headbands and transport of injured people.

In addition, propulsion and blows to the hull, conventional lifeboats, launch arrangements for evacuation and rescue solutions, and the preparation of new standards were covered.

Benefits can now be reaped from the knowledge acquired, explains principal engineer Rune Solheim, who has been the PSA’s observer in the lifeboat project. “The first round of consultations on a new industry standard for freefall lifeboats was held in the second half of 2008, with the goal of finalising work before 30 June this year.

“Once that norm’s in place, a completely new craft is to be built to meet its requirements. This will take account of all the weaknesses identified by the lifeboat project.”

The guidelines to the regulations often refer to recognised standards as a recommended way of complying with the requirements. Mr Solheim emphasises that the PSA will not assess whether to refer to the new lifeboat norm until it is ready.

Extensive work is also being pursued through the Norwegian Shipowners Association (NR) to identify possible weaknesses in conventional lowered lifeboats. Such craft are much used on mobile units, but can also be found on certain fixed production installations.

“In this phase, we’re looking at all relevant factors, such as design, launch arrangements, propulsion and maintenance,” says principal engineer Sigurd Robert Jacobsen, the PSA observer in the NR project. “Plans call for these studies to be concluded during the first quarter of 2009, and the findings made will determine further work.”

Both he and Mr Solheim emphasise that these efforts to improve lifeboats are unique in a world context. The PSA is making an active contribution by informing fellow regulators in other countries about the issue, so that this big learning boost can also have international spin-offs.

Vital principle
The HSE regulations for Norway’s petroleum sector are normative and based on functional requirements.
This means that they specify the level of safety to be achieved, but not how to reach it. According to the functional requirement for freefall lifeboats, it must be possible to evacuate personnel safely from installations to a secure area in all weather conditions.

The owners are duty-bound to assure themselves that using lifeboats as planned on each installation will be acceptable.

A functional requirement for the petroleum industry is an overarching principle, regardless of the norms to which reference might be made.

By Ole-Johan Faret