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Special Report: Technical know-how is vital to fire safety

by Indrajit Sen on May 11, 2017

Ramanujan Suresh, sales director - analytical and detection for Rosemount MEA at Emerson Process Management.
Ramanujan Suresh, sales director - analytical and detection for Rosemount MEA at Emerson Process Management.

In your opinion, how well-equipped is the GCC oil and gas industry in terms of fire protection? How prepared are major oil and gas producers to efficiently detect fires and prevent accidents?

Given the large amounts of flammable gases and liquids being handled and stored in the GCC, fire protection is extremely significant, and I believe that the GCC oil and gas industry is fully cognisant of that. In terms of awareness and regulations, a lot of improvements have happened over the years.

With several large facilities coming on stream with new technicians and operators, managing competence and compliance to avoid human errors has become an ongoing challenge. Technology plays a major role in efficiently detecting and preventing incidents.

For instance, it is now possible to detect deadly gas leaks at the speed of sound, without being affected by inclement weather, wind direction, leak direction, or any potential gas dilution. Unlike traditional gas detection equipment, today’s gas leak detection technologies do not have to wait until a gas concentration has accumulated, and the detection response is instantaneous for all gas types. The adoption of such innovations in the field of safety is gaining momentum in the GCC.

What major fire accidents have occurred in the regional oil and gas industry in the recent past?

Risk is the product of frequency and consequence. With the best will in the world, the frequency of accidents cannot be brought to zero. Therefore, there are still fire incidents that make headlines all over the world. However, focussing on keeping the risk at a low level is the key, and today’s flame and gas detection technologies can help to do that.

With crude oil prices below $60 a barrel, do you think regional NOCs and other major oil and gas producers are spending enough to address HSE? As major energy companies cut their operating costs, are they still investing enough in fire security systems?

We are seeing operators doing all they can to reduce costs. But “all they can” has not meant reducing their focus on ensuring the safety of their personnel. NOC personnel have explicitly told us that the budgets of safety projects are ring-fenced and will not be reduced. Operators understand that they must ensure that cost-cutting does not compromise safety.

Statistics from Solomon Associates, among others, have shown that best-in-class operators have significantly reduced their maintenance budgets and improved their process safety by improving reliability.

As the old saying goes, “If you think that safety is expensive, try having an accident!” The cost of major industrial incidents is usually measured in the tens or hundreds of millions of dollars, and the consequent business interruptions are around four times more expensive again, not counting litigation, investigation, and regulatory penalties.

Regulatory audits and inspections usually increase following these incidents. Process manufacturing plants need to achieve top-quartile safety performance, or be in the top 25% of safety performers in the industry.


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