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Training In A Tight Spot

Published: 04th Sep 2013 in OSA Magazine

Confined space training in the upstream oil and gas sector

The increased prevalence of Competence Management Systems over recent years means that HSE training has become more stringent in the oil and gas sector. Whereas five years ago offshore crews would have received a basic version of safety training, more and more companies are now requiring rigorous assessment of confined spaces competence, with associated tick lists and practical assessment. 

Training can be divided up into theory and practical sessions, rescue scenarios and detailed Student Competence Assessments. Offshore crews are not just expected to have been presented with the information – they now have to prove they can use it. 

Many operators, managers and rig builders have in house training centres with state of the art simulators, but these generally train their staff in the technical requirements of a working rig scenario. Companies often rely on specialist training centres to fulfil their confined space training needs. 

In the newer frontiers, where specialist training centres are thinner on the ground, this can be challenging. Bringing in a trainer is one option to deal with this. 

Confined space training

The offshore oil and gas industry is huge, global and highly mobile. Industry standards governing offshore procedures are like onshore legislation in that they require safety and health training on working in confined spaces for all workers and supervisors. Protocols and procedures can vary from one company to another, however. Added to this is the fact that any movement of staff to a new vessel mandates retraining. There is a constant demand for confined space training in the industry. 

According to Singapore’s National Statistics, Workplace Safety & Health report of 2008, 10% of workplace fatalities were due to work related accidents in confined spaces. These happened in a wide range of industries from complex plants to simple storage vessels.

Those killed were not only people working in the confined space but also those who tried to rescue them. 

Confined spaces in an offshore environment include pipes, tanks and mud pits. Workers need to enter in order to clean, inspect, maintain and repair them, sometimes carrying out hotwork, e.g. welding, as part of the process. Some of the work environments such as under the hull of an FPSO (floating production, storage and offloading vessel) will also be confined spaces. Offshore training can be delivered to those working on the vessel/rig itself.

Underwater activities are generally covered by professional divers with their own plans and procedures. 

Depth of knowledge

Confined space training is reasonably in depth for offshore crews. It contains some complex information which delegates are expected to fully understand in order to attain competence. New crew members face a steep learning curve.

Air quality is a key concern and confined spaces have to be flushed, ventilated and tested before entry. There are a number of Breathing Apparatus (BA) sets on the market. They fall into one of two categories – air purifying respirators, which are filter based, and supplied air respirators, which carry their own air supply. 

The risk of explosion is another consideration. Although ‘hotwork enclosures’ – sealed structures with an independent air supply that form a sealed environment around the work – can be installed in larger spaces, they are not always practical to install in confined spaces.

Finally toxicity levels are a big consideration.

Atmospheric testing is required before any kind of entry is permitted, with or without BA sets. At a minimum, readings are to be taken for:
• Oxygen
• Flammable gases
• Vapour readings
• Toxic gases and vapour readings

Risk of suffocation is defined as when oxygen concentration falls below 19.5% volume. The maximum safe oxygen level is 23.5%. Readings for flammable gases and vapours must be no greater than 10% LEL (Lower Explosive Limit) and the reading for toxic gases and vapours must be lower or equal to PEL, or Permissible Exposure Limits. 

There are a number of handheld electronic gas detection instruments on the market for use in confined spaces. Workers need to understand that different gases will need reading at different depths, depending on the heaviness of the gas. 

The new frontiers

The depth of knowledge can be a challenge when workers are new to the industry and the offshore industry is expanding rapidly. New markets are opening up all over the world and it takes a few years before the supporting infrastructure is in place. Mature markets like South East Asia or the United States have a good choice of training centres and providers.

Newer markets like Africa, where the balance is more heavily weighted to exploration than production, have less of an associated infrastructure. 

Governments require a high proportion of locally recruited crews, which means that a large number of people need to be trained in an area that doesn’t have a lot of training provision, or even a huge number of experienced trainers. It is expensive to fly employees long distances to get the job done. With many courses being just one or two days, this is not cost effective.

One alternative is to bring the trainer to the offshore crew and carry out training aboard the vessel. It is an innovative solution, and it presents a different set of rewards and challenges – and has been proven to be cost effective. 

Numerical advantage of onboard training

Offshore rig crews can be around 200 people on each rotation, which means around 400 people in total, all of whom need to be competent or working towards competence in confined space work and confined space rescue techniques. 

Training centre courses often run for small groups of ten people, making the logistics of booking this many personnel a challenge. Onboard training has the advantage that the entire crew is in the same place at the same time. One rotation of nearly 200 men can be trained in two to four weeks without the need to source, book or transport staff to a dedicated training centre overseas.

Advantages of onboard training

A big plus of onboard training is knowing practical instruction is directly relevant to the equipment and scenarios of the vessel. Gas monitoring systems, for example, vary widely from asset to asset. Onsite training ensures the entire crew has the right skills for the right vessel. Students will be learning to calibrate and use the equipment carried on board and dealing with the dirty and difficult environment of an offshore storage vessel. 

The same is true for the specific confined spaces that are on the vessel. Confined space simulators, which are the closest possible version of a real life scenario can be used. Offshore, trainees are exposed to real situations and learn how to deal with potential problems in their work area. Having a real-life mud pit for a simulated confined space rescue, for example, is beneficial in many ways. The hands on experience increases trainees’ motivation and potential retention.

Another advantage is repetition of information. The length of time the trainer has on the vessel means that they are able to break course delivery down into bite-sized chunks. Theory training is traditionally a one day course at a training centre. Offshore, it can be split into two four hour sessions on consecutive days. Given that the average attention span wanes after about two hours, there are obvious benefits to this. The double session also enables the trainer to build up more of a rapport with his delegates, which is an important element of motivation. 

Finding space

Offshore training is not without inherent problems. Finding the space for practical confined space assessment can be difficult on a working asset, where space can be at a premium and operation activities take precedence. Trainers often have to make an area safe before the training can begin, which adds an element to the job that would not exist in a centre.

Mitigating risks adds time to the period of training, and training windows are often short enough. 

Finding time

Time is limited by the duration of the rotation, which can make fitting everyone in challenging. Recognised industry standards dictate a ratio of 1:6 for confined space practical training, which can be very slow going with a large offshore crew. 

Two trainers to cover one crew rotation would be the ideal, but POB (personnel on board) limitations are tight. Any delay or shutdown is enormously expensive, so offshore vessels often need to keep bed space for inspection, repair and maintenance crews to come in and carry out work during operations. This means that some assets only have bed space for one trainer at a time. This slows down the practical assessments to half speed.

Trainers often organise themselves to work 18 hour split shifts to cope with the volume of delegates, and schedule in extra rest periods to recover. They also have to cope with the additional pressure of losing class members for one session of their training. Operations are a priority on a working asset. Crew duties, unexpected situations and in some cases emergencies mean that trainers can lose 10% of each class. 

These delegates will be ‘recommended for further training’, rather than ‘passed’, simply because they did not complete the course. This means that they will have to be retrained at a later date. This compares with a usual 100% first time pass rate at training centres onshore. 

Rig Managers’ solution to this is to have the trainer come back for the next working period of that rotation to mop up the remaining students, perhaps reasoning that even a repeat visit is cheaper and easier than sending their staff onshore. 

Coordinating training

In an ideal world, the OIM (Offshore Installation Manager), Captain and RSTC (Rig Safety Training Coordinator) would be able to schedule a training roster for the entire crew before the trainer arrived. But the reality of a working environment means that such perfect planning is not possible. 

Finding time and space for training around operations is far from straightforward. Class and practical registration, which is reasonably straightforward in the training centre, can be complex. There have been situations where supervisors have not been able to confirm crew members on the training roster until the morning of their scheduled theory class. Trainers have to repeatedly check class registration lists against POB in the Radio Operator Room and communicate with the supervisors accordingly. The relationship between trainer and operations staff is therefore important.

Clients frequently request the same trainer for repeat visits. This works well because the trainer is familiar with the systems as well as the equipment, the safety challenges and possible scenarios on board. There is an increased level of flexibility because, having built up relationships with the administrative staff, the trainer is able to work more independently to get the job done. And, of course, relationships created with the crew help enormously when it comes to training them. Although some people classify confined space training as ‘basic safety’, the reality for a newcomer is anything but basic.

Concepts crews need to know

The definition of a confined space varies between jurisdictions so training companies need to deliver to their international students. K2 covers the a range of legislation: the Singapore Standard, now known as the SS 568: 2011, the HSE’s Safe Work in Confined Spaces and the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standard 29 CFR. 

In our student manuals a confined space is broadly defined as any enclosed or partially enclosed area that:
1. Is not designed or intended for human inhabitation
2. Has a restricted entrance or exit by way of location, size or means
3. May contain a hazardous atmosphere
4. Contains a material that could trap or bury an entrant
5. Has a shape that might cause an entrant to be trapped or asphyxiated
6. Can present a risk to the health and safety of anyone who enters due to one or more of the following factors:
• The design, construction, location or atmosphere
• The materials or substances within
• The work activities carried out within
• The mechanical, process and safety hazards present

Dealing with the risks

Our offshore training is delivered to those working on the vessel/rig itself. Underwater activities are generally covered by professional divers with their own plans and procedures.

Crews on our training courses will learn how to deal with confined space entry in the following ways:
Elimination – Eliminate all hazards in the space or control the hazards so that the workers can accomplish their tasks and exit safely. For example, disconnect, Lockout/ Tagout (LOTO) all energy sources of equipment in the confined space to eliminate hazards. 

Substitution – Consider the possibility of using alternative methods to do the job without entering; for example, using vacuum machines, extended hoses and to suck out sludge rather than have men enter the space.
Engineering controls – Use continuous forced ventilation in tandem with continuous monitoring of the atmosphere to ensure the air is safe. 

Administrative controls – These are twofold when dealing with confined spaces:
• Establishing safe entry (defined as when the worker’s head enters the space) procedures for every phase of the workscope
• Display entry permit documentation at the entrance of the confined space to indicate the space is safe to enter 

Appropriate PPE – The last line of defence. In hazardous environments appropriate PPE would include a fresh air supply respiratory protection.

Documentation – This is also a key factor. It is important to maintain a duly approved record and current risk assessments. These must include the results or findings of the risk assessment, risk control measures taken or that will be taken within an agreed timeframe, and safe working procedures.

Confined Space Entry Permits – These are issued to staff authorised to enter the space. These clearly identify roles and responsibilities of the worker. A separate permit to work will be issued to carry out hazardous activities such as hotwork. 

Entry Permits – These are issued by the appropriate manager and displayed at the entrance to the confined space. They are reviewed and endorsed on a daily basis to ensure they are still valid.

Requirements for working safely in confined spaces

• Warning signs with adequate information on all confined spaces
• Evaluation of need for entry
• Safe means of access and egress
• Safe procedures for opening the entrance
• Sufficient lighting
• Ventilation both prior to entry and throughout the work
• Control of entry, including gas testing
• Safety and health training for workers and supervisors
• Emergency rescue operations, including rescue plans and provision of rescue equipment
• Appointment of a confined space attendant 

Published: 04th Sep 2013 in OSA Magazine


Kevin R Monaghan

Kevin Monaghan is an industry professional with more than 30 years’ experience delivering and managing training in the UK, Holland, UAE, Qatar and Singapore. He is an experienced consultant with extensive training experience in numerous disciplines, as well as being an experienced consultant in the field of ISO 9001, ISO 14000 and OSHAS 18000.

Kevin is the Group Training Manager for K2 Specialist Services, headquartered in Singapore. The company is a vertically integrated project service provider to the oil and marine industries, as well as being the multi-accredited leading provider of work at height training in the Asia Pacific region.

K2 has operations centres in Korea, Brazil, UAE and South Africa, and dedicated training centres in Singapore, Korea, Thailand and Malaysia which specialise in work at height training. It is also an approved training centre for the American Safety & Health Institute.


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