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Reviewing offshore fire and blast protection

09 November 2014

By Kevin Kinsella

The regular assessment and review of fire and blast protection is a critical activity for offshore operators. It can have far reaching implications for the continued operation and integrity of the asset. Fully understanding the current, “as-built” condition of the measures which are in place is essential. Normal assurance and verification activities do not always make the connection between the original design intent, the levels of risk and the condition of the measures currently in place, which will, invariably, change over time.

Reviewing the barriers
At ERM, we are increasingly asked by clients to undertake independent offshore reviews of active fire protection (AFP) systems, passive fire protection (PFP) arrangements and blast protection (BP) in order to offer a new perspective and give advice on any observed shortcomings. Whilst the condition and relevance of critical barriers is closely monitored in European waters, often utilizing specific key performance indicators (KPIs), this may not be the case across the full asset portfolio. A specific review by an experienced offshore team can provide an extra degree of confidence and can reveal many otherwise hidden problems which require attention.

In performing such a review, our overall philosophy is one of “following the hazards” through the “Identify, Assess, Control/Recover” framework.  Key considerations will be:

  • Have Major Accident Hazards been properly identified?
  • Have the physical effects associated with these hazards been dimensioned, quantified and assessed and in turn has this
     information been used to inform the design for AFP, BP and PFP arrangements?
  • Will “on the ground” AFP, BP and PFP arrangements meet the required goal for Major Accident Hazard control/recovery? Is the initial design intent still valid?
  • What are the key findings and recommendations and what are the high priorities that need prompt attention?

The use of experienced personnel is essential when conducting such a review. A study team will need to comprise relevant experts and their expertise should ideally include design, installation, commissioning and servicing/support experience. At ERM we partner with a leading AFP system manufacturer and couple this expertise with our own experience in fire and explosion risk assessment as well as passive fire and blast protection.

Often mere visual observation on an AFP system does not reveal too much information and only a wet test can fully demonstrate the overall system performance. Having this capability within the team is therefore extremely useful. However, we know of many cases where visual inspections, before testing, have revealed issues that had been missed from normal operational inspections. In one case, the review team spotted some well hidden localized corrosion of a fire water ring main. Within minutes the team had uncovered the full extent of the problem, including a hole large enough to put a fist through!

Two-phase approach
A typical offshore review of this type includes two distinct phases. The first phase would draw upon current major hazard identification and assessment best practice, principles and guidance. It would involve gathering the information on the hazards and barriers and recording it on a standard pro forma. The pro forma is designed to focus review activities to determine whether the AFP, PFP and BP arrangements were specified appropriately during the design phase and to record appropriate information to assist the assessment team during the offshore phase of work. In addition to recording the base information for the study, the pro forma would contain questions to guide the assessor, for example:

  • Are the elements installed?
  • Are there modifications which could impair goals?
  • Have the hazards changed?
  • Is the coverage and rating adequate to protect against identified hazards?
  • What is the general condition from visual inspection and is overall function likely to be compromised?
  • Are maintenance, inspection and testing records up to date and do they reveal any issues? (for AFP only)
  • Are any remedial actions required to repair, replace or extend?

In terms of assessing potential damage, suitable criteria will be included on the pro forma. For example, for PFP:

  • Unretained and disbonded material observed;
  • Corrosion or mill scale observed under an epoxy intumescent;
  • Reinforcement exposed and visibly damaged;
  • Substrate exposed with reinforcement damaged;
  • Major failure of retention system at corners.

The offshore phase will focus the review process on determining the current, “as installed and operated” status of the AFP, PFP and BP arrangements.   Emphasis is placed on aspects such as condition, management of change, changes to hazards, high level review of maintenance and inspection and testing arrangements. Each barrier will be systematically reviewed across each of the installation fire areas.

Highlighting the issues
Performing a review of this nature requires a high degree of forward planning and logistics, together with excellent preparation and document control. Collecting and collating information on the nature of the hazards and design standards for the barriers and detailing this on a pro forma can be a time consuming task. What’s more, the location of the arrangements needs to be clearly identified for rapid identification when the team is offshore. By using a standardized pro forma layout, the review team can apply a consistent review across the assets, using set criteria for observed degradation. Where possible, all assets should be reviewed by the same team to ensure a realistic overview on the relative condition of specific assets.

Finally, of critical importance, is the effective translation of the review into a report and presentation for management. The report will include photographs of specific issues, plus the findings associated with those images. It will contain prioritized recommendations with order of magnitude costings for improvements. The report will also provide details of any gaps identified during the work and enable the client management team to make robust and informed decisions. The report will not fully answer the question “will barriers perform as expected?” but it will give some re-assurance to know that the ‘tyres’ have been well and truly ‘kicked’ by practical experts.

For further information on any of the issues and services discussed in this article contact Kevin Kinsella, ERM’s lead Partner for risk in the EMEA region, at kevin.kinsella@erm.com.

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