Published 17 Oct 2013
Mock-ups, practice and repetition are just some of the key elements of how AquaTerra’s Rope Access team prepare for any major job where there is the requirement to enter a potentially hazardous environment and the latest contract win for work within the concrete leg of an offshore platform is no exception.
The Aberdeen Specialist Access company won the contract, worth over £5m, based on their experience and history within these offshore structures, their proven track record with the client, their safety record and their quality assured and accredited credentials.
The majority of the jobs AquaTerra undertakes are on offshore assets for the oil and gas industry and some of the more specialist projects have been within the concrete legs or columns of platforms within the North Sea.
Many concrete platforms were constructed and installed some 30 years ago and are now several years past their economic production life. Their initial design was without the provision to access the cells inside the base or the working environment of the leg structures leading to them.
Due to the environment within the legs and the risk of hydrogen sulphide and hydrocarbon vapours being present, making work and any potential emergency response and evacuation becomes more challenging. As a result, leg access is only sanctioned for essential activities.
These legs also contain process and utilities pipework and are often filled with seawater, so the working environment for personnel and permits to work are subject to increasing stringent health and safety controls.
With some assets now in decommissioning phase it’s becoming increasingly relevant to consider successful implementation of integrity management. Operators are also presented with the growing challenge of exploring means of accessing and carrying out work within highly restricted spaces such as concrete legs.
AquaTerra’s Managing Director, Pete Robinson commented: “Our experience and proven track record on these projects allows us to offer the industry a solution to, what will soon be, an increasing work scope across a variety of other ageing offshore structures.
At the beginning, when various Operators of these assets were considering how to access the concrete legs, divers were thought to be a possible means of entering the sea-water filled structures.
Given the associated risks of entrapment, it was later deemed to be of greater benefit to drain the Leg and enter via rope access personnel wearing breathing apparatus.”
Whilst Rope Access is an extremely safe method of work, the potential hostile environment of concrete Legs poses significant challenges. As a consequence, all aspects of each project are subject to comprehensive assessment and process planning by the onshore management support team.
For AquaTerra’s management, it is essential that the rope access teams are assembled to provide the company with the confidence and competence that is continuously sought after in this industry.
Whilst Rope Access is the means of accessing the place of work, it’s the combining of skills and trades of the personnel that are the essential background of each rope access technician. Some are trained welders, pipefitters, electricians, riggers or inspection specialists.
During the project, teams may be changed around according to the needs of the work scope as it develops. Having this element of flexibility to the makeup of a team is an essential attribute to many offshore projects where time is critical.
With around 350 Rope Access Technicians on AquaTerra’s books and over 70 of them offshore at any time it’s essential for the on-shore project managers to carefully select the right people for the appropriate jobs.
As part of an overall strategy to improve safety, minimise team size, and control budgets, AquaTerra has developed an innovative approach to the design of teams utilised in hazardous area interventions, and to the provision of rescue and recovery capabilities for Emergency Response Teams.
The primary consideration during the project planning process for AquaTerra focuses on the safety critical element and the levels of risk associated with the activity, taking into account client and stakeholder expectations, the capability and limitations of the team and statutory responsibility.
Extensive risk assessments, health and safety planning and management as well as comprehensive training are all part of the effort to improve safety and minimise potential problems.
Along with this, AquaTerra has over 30,0000 sq feet of onshore training facilities to recreate job specific trials using specialist equipment, tools and techniques to ensure that, when projects are finally carried out at the offshore environment, they are right first time.
Among other things, the pre-trial mock-ups allow AquaTerra to identify the hazards to health and safety, and to determine the actions necessary to avoid or control risk.