Mike Rice, Commercial Director, Dropsafe
A phrase that gets thrown around the health and safety sector is ‘you can’t put a price on safety’. While this may intend to draw attention to the need for investment in safety equipment and processes, it is in fact unhelpful. This phrase implies a reluctance to acknowledge that HSE decision makers experience significant budget pressures. Furthermore, it fails to recognise that health and safety is more than simply an expense; it is an investment with potential long-term value which expands far beyond keeping personnel safe.
Throughout industries such as Oil and Gas, Power Generation and Mining, companies are proactively mitigating Dropped Object (DO) risk in the face of price pressures and an increasing need to take a stringent approach to health and safety. One way in which this is being done is with DO prevention technology such as barriers, nets and tethering pouches.
What is the extent of the threat of Dropped Objects?
A DO incident, in simple terms, occurs where equipment damage, personnel injury or fatality is caused by an item falling from height. Elevated walkways and stairways are particularly high-risk areas for DO incidents due to the large gaps between railings and the fact that there are often personnel walking below.
Further to this, DO risk is prevalent in offshore and industrial environments. Factors such as harsh weather, moving equipment, and strong vibrations cause fixtures and structures to corrode and become loose, creating a significant threat – particularly on offshore rigs and vessels with personnel on deck.
These risks are compounded by simple human error – and dropped handheld tools and equipment constitute a prominent threat in numerous industries worldwide.
No matter the origin, these DOs present a fourfold threat to the safety of personnel, the integrity of equipment, financial performance, and ultimately the reputation of businesses and their stakeholders.
They are among the top ten causes of fatalities and serious injuries in the oil and gas sector, and between 2003 and 2012, 227 people died as a consequence of being hit by a falling object in the Australian construction industry.
In many cases, these incidents could have been prevented had a barrier or net been installed on site. Investing in robust DO prevention technology is an essential part of a proactive DO mitigation strategy. Those who adopt prevention systems early on, particularly prior to operations and maintenance periods, are best placed to avoid a serious incident.
However, it is important to acknowledge the wider challenges faced in tackling DO risks. There are four main obstacles to cost effective DO mitigation, encompassing lack of understanding of the scale of the risk, a shortage in standardization, budget pressures, and a lack of transparency on costs.
Lack of reporting
It is no secret that reliable reporting of DO incidents remains a significant challenge for the health and safety sector, and this impacts the quality of data available.
Although DO risks have been recognised for a number of years, a centralised approach to incident reporting in has yet to be established, with different organisations such as the global offshore wind health and safety organisation, G+, and the IMCA reporting separate figures.
The issue with a lack of consistent reporting of incidents and near misses is that when incident statistics are published, they often fail to present an accurate picture of how health and safety is being addressed.
Lack of standardization
In this context, there is a real need for the industry to demonstrate a commitment to the highest safety standards when it comes to DOs. However, DO prevention has historically been one of the only HSE areas without standardised legislation and recognised best practice. This has meant that the responsibility for preventing incidents has sat on the shoulders of project management teams.
While the offshore and maritime sectors have demonstrated a strong capacity to self-regulate without standardisation in place, this has also resulted in sub-par solutions being installed in an effort to meet baseline Health & Safety standards and cut costs.
Furthermore, the boom and bust cycles experienced by industries such as Oil and Gas mean that despite market growth, contractors are understandably cautious of over-investing in infrastructure when budgets are still tight.
Coupled with the aforementioned lack of standardisation, cost cutting has resulted in the adoption of a wide range of solutions. Some of these solutions do not provide a suitably robust means of DO mitigation, and many, while coming in at a low upfront cost, require extensive additional maintenance and labour costs.
Low cost and low-quality solutions commonly adopted in offshore O&G include the use of slings to tether fixtures such as lights and cameras to rig structures, and using mesh netting as a barrier to prevent DOs falling to the site floor or into the sea. While these ‘makeshift’ approaches may tick an immediate box, they are neither the safest, nor the most cost-effective solutions available.
Lack of cost transparency
The problem is that, while there is progress being made towards standardization of DO prevention mechanisms, HSE decision makers tend to lack a clear benchmark for assessing the quality and lifetime cost of the available options.
As a result, it can be difficult to answer the question ‘how much should I be spending on DO mitigation?’ An increased level of transparency is necessary to support informed procurement decisions and empower health and safety decision makers to adopt innovative and cost-effective solutions that not only ‘do the job’ but deliver long-term value.
What key attributes should health and safety decision makers look out for when investing in Dropped Object mitigation?
The economic and safety case for robust, versatile DO mitigation systems is strong. However, is it important that HSE decision makers have a clear business case for their procurement decisions and can hold suppliers accountable in order that the solution they install effectively meets the company’s long-term needs. The key considerations include the system’s lifetime, installation and overall performance once installed.
Installation is a vital element of the total lifetime cost of using a DO prevention system, particularly if that system is set to be removed and / or reinstalled. Understanding this cost should be a critical part of procurement decision making.
For example, while mesh netting seems like a low-cost option, the yearly maintenance and replacement costs associated with this barrier are over ten times higher than the upfront costs, meaning that the cost of mesh netting far outweighs that of solutions which are more robust. For example, high-grade polymer panels with high resistance to heat and impact, have a yearly maintenance cost which is a third of the upfront cost. Furthermore, these higher quality solutions are backed by long term warranties, ensuring that the cost of unscheduled replacements is not carried by the site owner.
How can businesses benefit from a proactive approach to DO mitigation?
The industry is increasingly considering the long-term value of DO mitigation systems with the uptake of barriers and nets which are impact resistant, have high structural integrity and are manufactured to a high quality. This is enabling companies across Shipping, Oil and Gas and Power Production to demonstrate a commitment to upholding the highest safety standards.
Positioning yourself as a leader in health and safety by installing the most robust solutions to DO risk doesn’t have to mean you’re spending the most money on HSE equipment. The most effective solutions are not always the most expensive – and cost is not a barrier to dropped object prevention.
By taking a best practice approach, companies may also set themselves apart and gain a commercial advantage as the focus on improving standards in health and safety continues to grow.