South East Asia is a major hub for the energy sector, with many offshore assets relying on safe and reliable helicopter transfers to operate effectively. Asset owners in the region are reassessing their safety priorities after Covid, so we caught up with Benjamin Wan, Managing Director, Helisav, to explore the key safety risks around helidecks, why helideck perimeter safety net testing needs a rethink, and how a long-term approach to helideck maintenance can reduce expenditure for operators.
Hi Benjamin! To begin, please could you outline the drivers behind the creation of Helisav?
Benjamin: Previously, I worked for Shell doing helideck inspections, primarily based out of Malaysia. Inspections were self-regulated by helideck operator at the time, leading to inconsistency throughout the market, but Petronas – the Malaysian national Oil & Gas (O&G) company – wanted to standardise how helideck inspections were performed. I then worked with Shell and the Malaysian Civil Aviation Authority to help establish a new set of standards. I quickly realised that helideck inspections were an area where I could add value and support higher standards in the industry, leading me to found Helisav.
What services does Helisav provide?
At the moment, there are 4 key areas. The first one is inspection and certifications, where we ensure helidecks meet CAP 437 and local requirements. We do consultancy and advisory for new builds, from technical design throughout to environmental effect studies. A helideck is subject to a varied set of environmental effects, such as high wind, corrosion, and hot plumes from gas stacks, so we help to model this and its effects on infrastructure.
We also support operators in maintenance activities, including testing calibrations and friction tests. Finally, we also do training on inspections and safety for helidecks.
Our goal is to strengthen our position as a regional player and bring our experience to more operators outside Malaysia. We are one of the approved inspection companies in Malaysia and have a stable footing there, but there is a real uptick in demand across the region.
In your experience, what are the key safety risks around helidecks?
Falling from height remains a significant hazard. That is why we have the perimeter safety net, but you will find personnel will tend to use the area for exercise at night, for example. For loose objects around the helideck, the downdraft of aircraft can cause them to blow off the edge and fall. There is scarce space on rigs so objects and equipment can be placed too close to the landing zone, which is a safety infringement. Overall, awareness is not as strong as it could be.
How well has the market been served in the past in terms of helideck perimeter safety nets?
Looking back, it has been an overlooked area. It might seem an obvious and visible safety installation, but the importance of the helideck perimeter safety net is often misunderstood. It is the only barrier stopping a person from falling 200 feet.
The danger is that the net could look okay – but will it sustain a person’s weight? The net might be rusty, especially where coatings obscure visibility of degradation. Changing the net was traditionally a significant scope of work so operators may be tempted to delay it, or use chain link fence.
The proper use of the helideck perimeter safety new still depends to an extent on the owner’s safety policy. Stainless steel net technology has improved and now there’s a question of how to get this message across to everyone, especially smaller cost-sensitive operators.
From what I see of the Dropsafe Helideck Perimeter Safety Net, it is a different design. Most netting is broadly the same, but the key differentiators are how they are secured and tested – which in Dropsafe’s case is a tangible difference. With stainless steel construction too, the perimeter safety net will be longer lasting.
As a helideck inspection company, what are the hallmarks of a secure and safe helideck area?
There are many things we check. The first to look at is the design itself. If you get that wrong, you’ll always have problems, so don’t design in limitations. Take steps to get the design correct, then it is a matter of running and maintaining. Preventative maintenance is key, but even with the processes in place to enable this, operators will still need to stick to them rigorously for the best results.
Are there any elements of helideck safety which are often neglected?
The testing of perimeter safety nets. Typically, operators do a drop test where they drop a 100kg weight from 1m. That used to be the standard, but in recent years, companies are moving beyond that for safety reasons. They are scrambling to do tests using sacrificial panels and other creative approaches, but these are not permanent solutions.
The maintenance of the helideck surface is also an issue. It will become more slippery over time, but if the coating gets too worn, operators might touch it up and paint spots. You really have to do a proper refurbishment.
How can operators reduce the cost of making their helidecks safe?
As inspectors, we don’t want to dictate what asset owners need to do. We provide options and advice. In this case, our advice is to think long-term. Everyone wants the cheapest option, but the vision is short-term. The cheapest option upfront for nets is chain link fence, but it will last you 3-4 years at most. Looking holistically, it adds up. By focusing on the total cost of ownership, operators get a safer product that can last for decades with easier maintenance.
Thanks for talking to us Benjamin. One final question – will the current price volatility within O&G affect the way helidecks are both used and inspected?
The trend is upwards, which sounds good, but during Covid, there was a pronounced dip. So many assets just weren’t maintained as they weren’t in use. Operators are now looking to inspect their assets as part of the recommissioning process.
For platforms in Malaysia, there was a move towards using boats rather than helidecks during Covid, but we don’t expect that to last. The market will renormalise as the global economy undergoes further changes, and although Covid also drove attempts to perform inspections remotely, we don’t see this replacing skilled human inspections for the foreseeable future.
For more information about Helisav, please visit: https://helisav.com/
To learn more about the Dropsafe Helideck Perimeter Safety Net, click here or get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org