A key element of ensuring safe operations in industries such as oil and gas, renewables and maritime is reliable, unbiased inspections to validate and fine tune operators’ HSE strategies. We talked to Koen Backer van Ommeren and Bernie Harms from Control Union about the changing landscape for inspection companies in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, the importance of helideck inspections, and best practice in helideck perimeter net design.
Hi Bernie, Hi Koen. Could we begin with some background on yourselves and Control Union Industrial Inspections?
Bernie: I’ve been with Control Union for over 20 years, originally out in the field but now providing technical support for our global entities. My focus recently has been on non-destructive testing and helideck inspections.
Koen: I started as a trainee, working in quality management and technical support. I’m now Business Development Director for the Dutch section of the business, and I’ve worked for Control Union for the past 11 years.
We are part of a global group – Peterson and Control Union is a logistics and technology company providing logistical services, inspections and certifications, supply chain audits and risk management in over 75 countries, with around 61,000 employees.
What should industrial businesses look for in their inspection partners?
Koen: Large businesses in industries such as O&G want expert verification services. That’s why independence is crucial – for example, our inspectors will keep on top of trends in HSE solutions to provide the best advice, but we don’t supply equipment and would never want to benefit from their procurement decisions. Impartiality and industry specific expertise are vital ingredients for trusted inspection firms.
For helideck inspections, an unbiased viewpoint enables us to support clients with their challenges and point them in the right direction when it comes to selecting a best practice solution – we will only advise clients on what is right for their assets.
Why is it important to ensure that an asset’s helideck is well maintained and functioning correctly?
Bernie: Safety is the first priority for helicopter operations. Take-off and landing are by far the most hazardous phases of a flight, so the helideck must be maintained to safeguard not just the helicopter pilots, but the passengers, helideck crew, and the asset.
There must always be robust procedures in place for worst case scenarios such as crashes or fires, or in the case of personnel falling over the side of the helideck.
Koen: The helideck is the primary point of access for offshore assets, whether that’s renewable energy substations or drilling rigs. Even with sites that are normally unmanned, such as wind farms, there still needs to be an entry point for inspections and site visits. It’s an area of focus for legislators, and if operators are not compliant it can have a significant impact on the productivity of the asset. Heli-operators, too, will be unwilling to take risks by flying to non-compliant platforms.
What are the important regulations governing helidecks?
Bernie: It depends on the region, as local legislators will want to make their mark. But in practice, the UK’s CAP 437 has been adopted by the energy majors as a global gold standard, and naturally the industry has followed suit. This ensures that helicopter operators globally are assured of consistent safe practices wherever they land.
How frequently should a helideck be inspected and what are the main areas of focus during the inspection?
Bernie: We’d recommend that helidecks are inspected at least on an annual basis. This isn’t mandated by the regulations, and in fact, we’d encourage asset owners to perform regular checks themselves before we conduct the full inspection. Whether onshore or offshore, the frequency of inspections should be the same, regardless of the level of usage and the conditions experienced.
Koen: Ensuring adequate testing of landing surface friction, firefighting equipment and telephones is all vital. Firefighting systems will often never be used, but they need to be ready to go at all times.
How high does the perimeter net sit in the order of priority?
Koen: For us, it’s a critical part of the overall helideck’s safety. The helideck net is, however, not always the highest priority for the operator, and in some cases, we’ve seen low-grade solutions such as chicken wire used.
Bernie: Any contractor working under the supermajors will be used to the requirements of CAP 437, but sometimes operators will do the minimum required by the regulations without considering whether their perimeter nets are truly effective as lifesaving solutions.
What should a high-quality perimeter net look like in terms of construction materials and installation? How can you tell a high-quality solution from a ‘makeshift’ one?
Koen: Take green coated steel mesh as an example. Corrosion is obscured by the coating, making visual inspection ineffective. The requirements are unclear, meaning there is no formal way to reject it. But what we do find is that while it may be strong enough for testing, it is inadequate in practice.
Bernie: We would recommend a purpose made product, designed as a lifesaving product and constructed out of materials designed to withstand corrosion, such as marine grade stainless steel. Ease of installation and inspection are also key components of a best practice perimeter safety net.
How are helideck perimeter nets usually tested and are there any challenges with this?
Bernie: The best solutions will have sample sections that can be sent to the OEM for testing, indicating whether strength & corrosion levels are within acceptable limits. Often, however, the process is that a sacrificial panel is taken out and has a test weight dropped on it.
Our newer customers, who may not have previously undertaken a detailed safety audit of their helideck, will often lack a specialised sacrificial section from their helideck perimeter net. In any case, the tested panel needs to be replaced.
Additionally, when stainless steel wrapping wires are used to join the net to the helideck frame with aluminium crimping, this leads to galvanic corrosion, weakening the structural integrity of the net support.
Has there been an increase in virtual helideck inspections in the last year? Does this pose any challenges?
Koen: There has been an increase in virtual inspections due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve done some elements of assessments such as staff qualifications and procedure reviews remotely, but there are always downsides, especially for quality management and surveying.
There was a highly publicised example where a Hololens augmented reality headset was used for a remote helideck inspection in the North Sea. The helideck was recertified, and subsequently saw an incident where a helicopter wheel became lodged into the helideck, severely impacting operations. In our experience, there is no substitute for a full technical inspection carried out in person.
Thanks Koen, thanks Bernie! It was great to catch up on the latest developments in the helideck inspection space – it’s clearly an important yet often overlooked issue.
To find out more about how Dropsafe’s Helideck Perimeter Safety Net was developed, you can read our previous Q&A with Dan Burman here. To learn more about the product and submit an enquiry, please visit this link.