The Coast Guard just issued a safety alert for the offshore oil and gas industry that highlights the extra level of care that needs to go into offshore facilities. You can’t just walk away from an offshore facility and when things go wrong offshore there is always the potential for them to go wrong in a big, big way.
In this case the incident was minor, the potential consequences were very high and the incident was completely and totally avoidable. According to the Coast Guard, there was a fire in a portable accommodation unit on an offshore facility. The crew woke to the sound of the fire alarm, acted quickly and professionally to control the fire and got some help from a nearby vessel.
The cause of the fire was a stove that was installed incorrectly on the portable
unit. The manufacturer’s instructions indicated that the clearance between the stove and any combustible construction material needed to be at least six inches. However, the stove had actually been installed less than an inch from a wall made of combustible wood and fiber-reinforced plastic and covered with stainless steel sheeting, which conducted the heat.
Normally, the Coast Guard would review specifications for modules on drilling units, but, since this was a fixed platform, there was no review. it is worth adding that the SEMS rule requires that operators identify hazards and ensure mechanical integrity.
But the bottom line is that offshore work involves some unique safety challenges, but failing to follow the manufacturer’s instructions should not be one of them. And the Coast Guard shouldn’t have to remind industry on something this basic.