Offshore HSE Risk Management

Seismic Research Vessel

As a remote medical provider I have evacuated patients through West Africa, out of the northern ice off Greenland, and in the open waters of the North Sea. From the beginning of my time in emergency medicine, I have subscribed to the adage: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” This aged expression rang true while treating casualties in the U.S. Army and continues to prove itself in remote medicine.

As an HSE advisor, I strive to encourage, mentor, and train the people around me while advising the site management in all safety matters. To achieve these objectives, my duties include: project risk management, quality assurance, training, compliance monitoring, dynamic risk management, and more. While all of these duties are multi-faceted, dynamic risk management is an especially versatile responsibility and can range from a simple pre-task meeting to working with the crew and management to make a difficult situation safer.

Risk management takes an open mind, great listening skills, and the ability to work in a team. I was tested in all of these capacities earlier this month while on board a seismic research vessel in the North Atlantic. The crew supervisor informed me that our “in sea” equipment had been caught on drifting fishing gear. In sea equipment includes streamers, which are 3-8 kilometer cables containing the hydrophones that detect pressure fluctuations in the ocean. Streamers and other associated research equipment are “streamed” behind a moving vessel; and, in this case, floating fishing gear had become lodged on one of our streamers. While this type of incident is usually uneventful, the crew supervisor called on me to discuss the risk and current control measures in place to handle this special situation.

Upon further discussion I learned that the equipment was spinning in the water and twisting the cable. We expected this had been happening for hours while we were pushing through some recent rough weather. The section had twisted enough to cause damage to the equipment and create an excess of energy throughout the majority of the streamer. While the streamer was being retrieved from the water, the tension and stored energy caused the equipment to spin with the speed of a plane propeller. Once on the deck, the jumbled mass was contorted like a rubber band that had been twisted into a ball, and we were faced with the task of dismantling the streamer without being hit. After a few hours of strategizing, the crew developed a scheme involving unconventional barriers and blocks with ladders, steps, and hard casings in order to buffer the streamer and consequently minimize the level of risk. After seventeen hours of hard work and great vigilance, the crew had completed the dismantling operations and repaired the cable without any injuries.

While risk management is the cornerstone of what a HSE advisor does on a day-to-day basis, we also spend time ensuring that the vessel remains in compliance with company guidelines and industry standards. To do so, HSE advisors must revise and edit crew HSE plans, audit vessel control systems, and more. I work with both the maritime and seismic crews to ensure that all of the different components of the safety management system are carried out in a proper fashion.  From observing drills and offering feedback to conducting inspections on chase vessels, I track issues and work with management to find solutions.  While each day brings its own challenges, I am excited to continue to find solutions for our clients and improve safety culture everywhere I go.