Staff working for one of the leading contractors in the UK onshore oil and gas industry breached health and safety regulations and failed to follow best practice during a single routine task, the industry regulator has concluded.
A crew from PR Marriott Drilling lost control of an operation to lower the vent pipe of a mud treatment rig during demobilisation in February at Rathlin Energy’s West Newton-A site in East Yorkshire.
A member of the public, who is a health and safety professional, informed the Health and Safety Executive.
He reported that PR Marriott had used the wrong equipment to lower the pipe and had failed to plan the operation. He said crew members worked at height without sound footings and protection against falling. The operation also risked trap and striking injuries.
The HSE said PR Marriott had carried out an internal investigation and changes have been made to working methods. In a statement, an HSE spokesperson said:
“HSE investigated a complaint from a member of the public relating to activity at Rathlin Energy’s West Newton site. Having discussed these issues with the contractor, PR Marriot Drilling, HSE is satisfied that required improvements in the way risks are managed have been acted upon.”
In correspondence seen by DrillOrDrop, the HSE said the arrangement to lower the pipe “raised many concerns”. The HSE also acknowledged potential hazards, actual breaches of two sections of the Lifting Operations Lifting Equipment Regulations (LOLER), as well as a failure to plan properly and wear appropriate protective equipment throughout the task.
DrillOrDrop invited Rathlin Energy and its contractor to comment on the incident. This post will be updated with any response.
“Abject and dangerous standards”
This is the second time members of the public have pointed out multiple regulatory breaches at West Newton-A. When the site was last active, in 2014, the Environment Agency recorded 14 breaches of permit conditions in four months. (DrillOrDrop report)
The operation to lower the vent pipe happened on 5 February 2019. It was filmed by a member of the public and reported to the HSE by Dennis May, who has worked as a health and safety advisor in the power industry for the past 10 years. He is also an anti-fracking campaigner.
He described the incident as “abject and dangerous standards of site practice” applied to “the most basic of operations”. He said it was evidence of “poor industry culture and lax regulation”.
Mr May identified 17 concerns about the incident after reviewing video footage. In a recent response, the HSE accepted almost all of his points.
Mr May said:
“It would appear that there has been little change to the situation [at West Newton] which arose in 2014.”
“all of those events were reported in the first instance by members of the public, either local residents or those attending the gate protest”.
“Lessons have obviously not been learned and the root causes of such events are still inherent in the management systems and culture on the Rathlin site and industry wide.
“Fracking was sold in the UK on the promise of ‘gold standard regulations’ when it is blatantly clear that the level of compliance and standards of safety management for the most basic of operations is anything but.
“That such poor levels of practice and management appear to be the norm and only come to light via reports from members of the public equally demonstrates the validity of serious concerns about the effectiveness of the regulatory system.
“This can only serve to undermine the public’s perception of, and confidence in, the regulatory bodies, when, given the industries intended rate of proliferation amongst communities, it needs to be higher than ever.”
The film shows the crew losing control as it tried to lower the vent pipe of the mud treatment equipment. At one point, the pipe fell free and hit what was thought to be a safety handrail.
Mr May said the difficulties arose because the contractors used unsuitable equipment (a telehandler) as a lifting device to topple the pipe, in breach of the Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations. The telehandler was unsuitable because there was insufficient control and it would not stop the pipe falling back towards the staff, he said.
He also identified what he said were other problems with the operation.
Staff could be seen standing on pipework without any means of safe access or fall prevention, he said. At times, they are seen working without a sound footing. They had to apply bodily force at full stretch, putting themselves at risk of falling. He said:
“The lack of planning for this task is clearly demonstrated by the ergonomic considerations, ad-hoc behaviours of the operatives and lack of fall protection.”
Mr May said one member of staff was not wearing gloves, even though there were mechanical, and possibly substance, hazards.
“This is either a failure to correctly assess the risks, communicate the required controls and PPE standards or a lack of adequate supervision.”
At one point, someone appeared to run out a site cabin. Mr May said:
“People appear to be under time pressure, which could either be as a result of instruction, self-imposed or engendered by incentive schemes.
“[this] is poor practice given that slips trips and falls are the most frequent cause of injury in the work place. This indicates a lack of behavioural controls and poor overall health and safety culture on the site.”
Mr May also criticised the use of chain slings in the operation.
What the HSE said about the incident
In correspondence, the HSE accepted there were breaches during the operation of sections 6 and 8 of the LOLER regulations.
It said the contractor had not planned to use the mud system – normally intended for drilling water wells. Demobilisation of the planned equipment would not have involved lowering a vent pipe.
“There was a failure on PRMD [PR Marriott Drilling] to recognise that a different system to that which was planned was in fact in use.
“[the contractor accepted] there was a failure to plan properly whilst undertaking the task.”
Since the incident, senior management of PR Marriot Drilling had decided to take this trailer mounted mud system out of service. No other mud treatment system of this type was now in service, the HSE said.
Mr May’s criticism of the equipment used to lower the vent pipe was also accepted.
“The Lifting/Lowering arrangement used to attach and control the lowering of the Vent Pipe raised many concerns.
“The preferred option would have been to use a Crane with suitable height to safely control the raising/lowering of the Vent Pipe.
“The actual method used incurred potential hazards; including pinch/entrapment points around the hinge arrangements, manual handling issues due to having to apply force against the attachment arrangement initially holding the Vent Pipe back, and safe personal positioning during the operation.”
The HSE accepted that control of the lift could be lost as the pipe fell below horizontal. It added:
“The use of C hook chain slings in this instance is not best practice and sling hooks with safety latches would have been more suitable. The weight of the particular chain sling used did add to the weight preventing the vent pipe being lowered in the manner this crew were attempting.”
A crew member passing near the vent pipe whilst it was being lowered could have been vulnerable, the HSE agreed.
On time pressure, the HSE said:
“There was no incentive scheme but they were keen to be demobilised and off site that day.”
The HSE said as a result of the incident the following changes had been made:
- Risk Assessment Method Statements reviewed and updated
- Reviewed incident with rig crew
- Updated RAMS for the re-designed mud treatment system
- Modified site set up audit to include additional verification of FN numbers for plan on site to reference project RAMS
- Ensure a non-working supervisor has over all control of activities from PRMD or the operating company.
DrillOrDrop has reported that East Riding of Yorkshire Council has carried out three evictions of monitoring camps outside West Newton-A, set up by opponents of the site’s operations.