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Offshore safety

Welcome to the HSE podcast.

In this episode, following the BP disaster in the Gulf of Mexico we talk to Tom McLaren from our Offshore Safety team about how offshore drilling is regulated in the UK.

We don't have the same amount of deepwater drilling as they do there. We've only got 2 wells going due to be drilled in the summer, in addition we do have a different regulatory regime from the US system.

And HSE's Helena Phillips answers your questions about the new health and safety poster. But first here's a round-up of the latest health and safety prosecutions.

The hospital where a man with cerebral palsy died after his head got caught in bed rails has been fined £50,000. Basildon and Thurrock University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust was found to have no system in place to assess the risk to patients from bedrails. Kyle Flack died from asphyxiation after his head became trapped between the bottom rail surrounding his bed and the edge of the bed itself. During the night before he died he was found several times lying diagonally in his bed with his head wedged between the rails. Basildon Crown Court heard there had been a similar incident during an earlier stay by Kyle at the hospital. Despite this no assessment of his needs was carried out when he was admitted again in 2006. People with cerebral palsy are know to be at risk of entrapment and the issue was highlighted in Department for Health guidelines published in 2001.

American Airlines has been fined £70,000 after one of its workers had to have his leg amputated following an incident at Heathrow airport. Ground support worker, Kulwant Bhara, was preparing an aircraft when he was reversed into by a 70 tonne push back tug used to move aircraft from departure gates. As a result Mr Bhara's leg had to be amputated below his hip. The HSE investigation showed that the tug did not have the reversing lights it needed on that dark evening or an audible reversing alarm. HSE Inspector John Crookes said vehicle movements are one of the main risks facing airside ground support workers in the aviation industry. This is why it's crucial for companies to ensure the vehicles are properly fitted with reversing lights and audible warning alarms.

The owner of a Penrith wood processing plant has been fined £20,000 after a worker had his foot completely severed by a log shavings machine just 2 weeks into his new job. Alan Wilson Jenkinson of AW Jenkinson Forest Products was prosecuted by HSE for putting workers at risk. Penrith Magistrates Court heard that a 24 year old employee was using a chainsaw to deal with a stuck log in the log box at the end of a conveyor belt. He lost his balance and his foot got caught in the revolving blades at the bottom of the log box. Since the incident the company has installed fixed guards around the machine to prevent workers from being able to access conveyor belts and log boxes.

You can stay up-to-date with the latest news and updates from the HSE by visiting the news pages on our website hse.gov.uk/news.

You're listening to the HSE podcast.

US President Barack Obama says that the BP oil explosion in the Gulf of Mexico which killed 11 people and resulted in a spill of up to 60,000 barrels of oil a day is the US's environmental 9/11. Oil is still pouring into the Gulf of Mexico and as the problem is ongoing it's too early to accurately define the impact on the environment and the industry. HSE is responsible for the safety of offshore drilling in the UK. We asked Tom McLaren how the industry is regulated here.

The reason we're doing this interview is because of what's gone on in the Gulf of Mexico. Now, for people who don't know, how likely is an event like that to happen anywhere near the UK?

Firstly we don't have the same amount of deepwater drilling as they do there. We've only got 2 wells going due to be drilled in the summer, in addition we do have a different regulatory regime from the US system.

Can you explain first of all about this deepwater drilling.

Well deepwater drilling in the case of deepwater was in 5,000 metres of water and the only equivalent we have to that in the UK is in the Atlantic margin west of Shetland.

You're saying as well that the regulatory regime is different here?

Yeah.

So how is it different? What have they done wrong over there?

Well it's not a question of them having done something wrong. The US system is much more prescriptive than ours. They tell the operators exactly what they've got to do and how they've got to do it. In our case it's a much more a permissioning regime. Every installation has to have an accepted safety case by ourselves and that safety case contains arguments that tell us that the major hazardous risks are being properly controlled.

So why is a prescriptive regime a problem?

It's not particularly a problem but it does not give the industry or the operator the options that they might like to have in terms of controlling risk. In addition to the safety case regime we also have a well examination scheme and a notification scheme so every well that's drilled in our waters has to be notified to us 20 days before drilling commences so that gives us an opportunity to look at the way that well's going to be drilled, the way that well's going to be designed and how the risks are going to be controlled.

Can you tell me how this industry is regulated here?

What's different about the UK from the US is that we are a completely independent regulator, our sole function is to regulate health and safety offshore. That's done through a permissioning regime and by that I mean that every offshore installation must have an accepted safety case. And that safety case contains a very precise argument for the way in which major hazard risks are controlled and a case for operating that installation offshore.

So you're saying that every, every installation is checked by the HSE.

Yes every, every installation offshore is inspected on an annual basis within our waters. Our regulatory regime changed radically post the Pipa Alpha disaster and subsequent enquiry by Lord Cullen. The primary recommendation of which was to give the responsibility for regulating health and safety offshore to HSE and take it away from the Department of Energy and that's exactly what happened and that give us complete independence.

And that independence is the crucial thing really. You're, you're a regulator with no ulterior motive.

Absolutely, our prime motive is the health and safety of the workforce offshore and there is no other game in town as far as we're concerned.

Now do you have any connection with the people who do an equivalent job to you in the US? Are you talking to them about this? Who's the Health and Safety Executive in the US for this area?

Our opposite number in the US are the Minerals Management Service. We talk regularly to them, we've had regular dialogue with them on issues of deepwater in the last few weeks. We have annual meetings through the international regulators forum of which we're both members, so yes, we've good, we have good relationships with our equivalents over there.

What help are you giving them? Are you giving them any help? Can you give them any help?

It's not so much a question of giving them help, but certainly they've been, they've been asking us fundamental questions about how we control certain aspects of the risks of, from drilling and from whales and we've been exchanging information with them on these aspects of deepwater.

Is there some best practice here that you'd like to see taken on over there maybe as a result of this? I know it's too early to really be analysing things, we're still in the middle of the crisis.

We've certainly been sharing with them the way we go about the well examination scheme, the way we go about wells notifications and the way we tend to get a much more upfront picture of what exactly is going to happen when drilling starts.

I suppose people are thinking now that this is a bit of a precarious industry. It doesn't really seem very safe. I mean what do you say to people who might have that criticism.

Well sure, if the industry was not properly controlled and they didn't properly control themselves it is an inherently dangerous industry. There's no question about that. However, what we've developed and matured over the years is a safe way of doing very dangerous things.

Visit the transcript for this podcast episode at hse.gov.uk/podcasts for more information about the issues discussed in this interview.

The HSE: protecting people's health and safety at work.

Now in our regular feature we put HSE Infoline's Helena Phillips to the test by asking her to answer one of your popular health and safety questions.

Good afternoon, HSE Infoline, Ben speaking, how can I help?

My name's Helena Phillips and I'm here to answer your health and safety questions.

In recent podcasts we've talked about the new health and safety law poster and I understand that here at Infoline you've had quite a few calls about that because there's a little bit of confusion about what information employers need to fill in on the poster itself.

That's right. The old law poster had columns where the employer must fill in certain information for their employees. The new poster has scrapped this in effect. What they now have to do is ensure that the poster is displayed. There are still 2 boxes that they can choose to fill in if they wish relating to safety reps and other health and safety personnel, but they're not by law obliged to do so.

So why has that changed? I mean it sounds that to me like that that means there's less concern about health and safety.

Not at all. What we're trying to do is reduce the burden on employers. What the employer's doing is putting the poster up to give employees information and there's a telephone number for example for Infoline. They can then call us for any information they need on health and safety concerns.

So is that trying to sort of shift everything so that HSE Infoline becomes a kind of central point.

We are, we are HSE's port of call, first port of call for enquiries so what we're trying to do is route all calls through Infoline and we can then either answer them straight up or direct them to the most appropriate people.

If you have anything to say on what's been covered in this podcast, just let us know at hse.gov.uk/podcasts. Don't forget, if you want to find out more about anything covered in this or any HSE podcast, you can access a transcript of each episode at hse.gov.uk/podcasts.

HSE's online team is keen to improve hse.gov.uk, so if you've found something useful, something you dislike or think there's something missing, get in touch, click on the feedback link at the bottom of any HSE website page.

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Updated 2011-07-20