The Weekly Reflektion 38/2022

One of the main concerns raised at risk assessments associated with lifetime extension of facilities is assurance of competence and capacity in the organisation until the facilities are decommissioned. People in the organisation often recognize the technical challenges and feel they have the necessary control to ensure prudent operations at the current time. They are however less comfortable when considering the many years of operation ahead and the potential internal and external changes that may influence the organisation in the future. This includes the time when they no longer work in the organisation.

Explosion and fire at the Longford Gas Plant in 1998

How do you ensure competence and capacity in your organisation for the remaining lifetime of your facilities?

In previous Reflektions we have focussed on assurance of competence and the importance of ensuring there are enough competent people in the organisation for prudent operation. We have also mentioned the Norwegian Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) main them for 2022, ‘Capacity and competence – the key to safety’. PSA has identified competence and capacity as an issue through their audits and investigations into serious incidents. The PSA makes this salient point.

This position is worrying. The future of the industry will be characterised in part by ageing infrastructure, automation, the introduction of new modes of operation, and projects related to new forms of energy.

Reflekt facilitate risk workshops and risk assessments and one of the main concerns raised in these is the assurance of competence. This includes continuity in expertise and knowledge of the facilities and ensuring the competent people in the organisation actually have the time to use their competence effectively. The experienced people involved in the workshops express their views on technical challenges and potential operational threats. However, while they recognise that these are real risks, they often feel they have control because they understand the issues, the uncertainties, and the consequences. By contrast they feel they have little control over the future development of the organisation and the continued support from contractors and service companies. They also recognise that they themselves will not always be part of the organisation so how will the management ensure continuity and experience transfer. Will there always be sufficient competence and experience in the future?

The Esso operated Longford gas plant in Australia received and processed gas from the Bass Straits offshore platforms. On the morning of 25th September 1998, a pump supplying lean oil to a heat exchanger was shutdown for 4 hours. The normal temperatures in the heat exchanger ranged from 60 oC to 230 oC. During the shutdown parts of the heat exchanges fell to -48 oC due to depressurisation of condensate. When the lean oil pump was started the steel was brittle due to the low temperature and the heat exchanger fractured. About 10 tonnes of gas were released and ignited by fired heaters about 170 meters away. 2 people were killed in the resulting explosion.

Esso carried out an investigation and blamed the accident on worker negligence in particular errors by the control room operator. A Royal Commission was established to investigate the incident and they put the blame firmly on Esso and cleared the operators of negligence. One of the findings from the Commission was the relocation of plant engineers to Melbourne that had reduced the quality of supervision at the plant. The competence was moved off site and effectively lost.

Reflekt AS