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From the President – July 2013

Published on 3 July 2013

The offshore industry is remembering the Piper Alpha tragedy of 6 July 1988, as we approach 25 years since the fateful incident. Our thoughts return to the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives. The memories we have of the disaster should continuously be used to work toward prevention of anything similar. As with wars, the past must be utilised to inform the future.

Following Piper Alpha there was a change in the UK regulatory regime offshore to a more general goal setting approach, with the focus on major accident prevention. Similar approaches in legislation have been introduced in other regions and have been extended to wider offshore operations.
Though the offshore construction and energy sectors work ever harder to prevent loss of life and environmental disasters, we should not lose sight of the fact that only constant vigilance will allow us to achieve the zero incident goal we set ourselves.

The risk management world talks of ‘black swan events’ – named as such because, when the phrase was coined in the Middle Ages, black swans were presumed not to exist. Although the saying came back into contemporary use via the financial world around the millennium, the metaphor has now been extended outside those markets and into regular parlance, hastened by the events of 9/11.

As the industry evolves to work in ever deeper and remote new environments, we need a step change in thinking, not just to deliver energy from inhospitable areas, but to ensure we do so safely. Not simply for our employees and clients, but also for the environments in which we will be working. The Arctic and Antarctic regions are part of the next frontier, and fragility makes their importance to the ecosystem perhaps even more critical than those areas where our industry is more established and practised.

Perhaps these new challenges and the resultant intense public scrutiny will help drive more acute thinking and behaviours across the industry, in recognition of the importance of developing global resources in a safe and responsible manner. Although technologies are continually advancing to meet these challenges, we must never lose sight of the fact that it is the human factor which has the greatest influence on operations.

As a reminder, the Challenger incident is an example of how external business and political pressures are sometimes brought to bear on operations, with (in the case of the Shuttle) publicly tragic results. IMCA members talk of ‘doing the right thing’, an attitude which requires persistent and consistent integrity, even when squeezed by improbable or unreasonable expectations.

New challenges will require more than just new technology, they will require strong and vigilant behaviours, and we must always remember to heed the lessons of the past – never to become complacent.

Massimo Fontolan,

IMCA President 2013