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Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Piper Alpha Remembered ...

It is now twenty-five years since the Piper Alpha Offshore Oil and Gas Platform was destroyed in one of the largest such disasters on record. A combination of poor hand-over procedures between shift l, the maintenance crew that started it, put a blanking plate in place, but had oers, bad planning and a combination of engineering features turned this into an event that shook the entire inductry and resulted in major changes to the way such platforms were constructed, managed and operated. Lord Cullen's report makes horrendous reading, the ctalogue of errors is almost unbelievable. Could it happen again? Possibly. As long as there is a human element to any operation involving explosive, combustible or flammable materials on platforms such as this, there will be a risk.

The Piper Alpha disaster killed 167 men. It happened because procedures for a routine maintenance task were not followed. A valve had to be removed from a high pressure gas line for repair, and a blanking plate was supposed to be put in place to allow gas to be pumped while the valve was misng. The crew doing the maintenance didn't secure the plate, and when the new crew came on, they failed to complete the task. An Operations Manager, saw the indicator showed the valves closed, assumed the work was complete and opened the valves from the Control Room.

The rest, as they say, is history. Procedures were rewritten after this, and Health and Safety tightened up considerably. There have been other incidents since Piper Alpha, but, to date, at least in UK waters, none have gone as badly wrong as Piper Alpha.

Hopefully the operators, regulators, owners and accountants will never forget the lessons learned here at such a heavy cost.

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