TNO's new gas explosion test facility comprises a 40 cu m steel bunker with removable steel bars at two sides. Test panels can be placed against one or both sides. Other test items can be placed within the facility. Maximum explosion over-pressure is 2bar.
With most of the legal paperwork over, organizational aspects implemented and technical improvements to the platforms close to completion, the Dutch offshore sector should be a safer place than ever.
Indeed, accident figures are dropping, but bureaucracy is now threatening efficient working, and the practical effect of many new measures on offshore safety has still to be proven.
To a large extent, The Netherlands has adopted the recommendations in the Cullen Report and has almost finished with the implementation into the mining law and regulations of the European Union safety and health directives . Last September, some 125 new articles were added to the various Dutch mining regulations which was a major effort for the state lawyers. "We must now see how this works in practice," said a spokesman for the Dutch State Supervision of Mines.
The new regulations require the implementation of safety and health management systems and documents. A third important theme is the participation of the workforce. It has been stipulated that workers or their representatives are entitled to information regarding the risks they may be exposed to, including the measures their company takes to limit the consequences. Any offshore worker may also speak separately to inspectors of the State Supervision of Mines during their inspection tours.
"The rules require that workers have a say in the job procedures," said the safety officer of one leading Dutch sector operator. "Supervisors should no longer just give orders but should listen to the workers and their opinions."
Weekly toolbox meetings should offer an opportunity for making such remarks but, as the safety officer confirms, it is becoming more common for safety aspects to be discussed on the work floor prior to starting a particular job.
An obvious drawback to working efficiency is the extensive amount of paperwork involved in health and safety procedures. The Dutch operators are now organizing extra safety courses and have to produce new handbooks and information sheets to inform their personnel about the latest additions and changes to the rules.
"We should realize that safety is not created through more paperwork," says the safety officer. "The human aspect is the key factor for the future. The behavior of human beings remains the most uncertain element in safety procedures.
"Installing explosion-safe devices is a lot easier than changing people's attitude. The traditional approach of demanding extra safety facilities after an accident should be replaced by improved understanding of how we can perform our jobs in a safer way."
Victor Roggeveen, general manager of Den Helder-based Advi-Safe Consultants, says: "The implementation of safety management systems and the Safety Cases was a necessary phase, but the offshore industry is now entering another era, that of the human error factor."
Roggeveen was the first Dutch person to graduate (last year) as a Master of Occupational Health, Safety and Welfare. In his thesis, he describes the development of a research model to investigate the effectiveness of safety management systems.
According to Roggeveen, the success of each system depends on both its intrinsic quality and the acceptability, or the human aspect. "Innovative designs have to be both technically correct and acceptable to the people who have to work with them. However, these two requirements are quite seldom met."
Blast wall tests
Meanwhile, research into safety technology continues in The Netherlands. TNO Prins Maurits Laboratory, in cooperation with SLP Engineering, London, will inaugurate its new gas explosion test facility in Rijswijk this spring.
Commissioning of the laboratory was achieved recently following delays caused by the comprehensive test procedures. The laboratory can now start its long-awaited programme of tests on a lightweight blast wall system which could soon result in a commercial product.
The project is sponsored by the European Commission's Thermie programme. The idea was to develop a lightweight separation wall capable of withstanding both blast and fire. The wall is intended for installation at offshore platforms as a replacement for existing fire walls which need to be upgraded. The new blast wall with its increased capabilities should not involve any additional weight and should be capable of handling in narrow spaces.
To select design over-pressure ratios, five typical topside designs were exposed to vapor cloud explosions using the Reagas simulation software. Theoretical analyses were performed of 11 alternative concepts for an aluminium panel and 10 alternatives using glass fibre-reinforced plastic in order to compare blast and fire-resistant capabilities along with weight and costs. It was concluded that a glass-fibre reinforced plastic panel offered best potential.
The laboratory then performed a test programme on six panels of different composition and boundary conditions. The tests comprised static loads, determination of natural frequencies, gas explosions with maximum over-pressure of 2bar, fire loads and drop weight loads. Only one panel showed promising results as regards meeting the H120 fire resistance rating.
In TNO's new facility, three panels measuring 2.5 by 2.5 metres will be tested. The project partners intend to commercialize the product if the programme is completed successfully. However, the lack of an alternative glass-fibre reinforced panel design may force the laboratory to start researching other materials once more.
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