Health & Safety legal action brings spotlight on offshore health & hygiene

May 28, 2010

Health and safety chiefs in the United Kingdom have taken formal action against rig owners in the North Sea after they were found to have insufficient bacterial control systems to handle potential risks to staff.

Inspections by the Health and Safety Executive identified a lack of control of Legionella bacteria in hot and cold water supplies offshore.

Consultant microbiologist Dr Carole Devine, an expert in health and hygiene in Intertek’s offshore specialist Intertek Commercial Microbiology unit, says operators and rig owners must factor monitoring and treatment of potable water supplies to ensure the safety of staff and contractors.

Legionella can be found in water in any situation, and it is not unusual for "positive" samples to be returned – with Legionella management and risk assessments needed to prevent the bacteria from thriving in water systems.

Owners, operators and managers are legally required to appoint someone responsible for managing the issues, and to ensure that risk assessments are carried out to inform a scheme of prevention or minimisation and that reviews take place regularly.

"Microbiological risks such as Legionella are a major issue for the offshore industry, as supplies are first transported from land to installations such as those in the North Sea, before being used," says Dr Devine.

"Legionella has the potential to seriously compromise hygiene and the health of staff working offshore, in much the same way as occurred at public facilities such as swimming pools and whirlpool baths, which have been the focus of issues in the past.

"Water might be safe at the source, but as soon as you store and transport any volume of water, by way of tank or through a pipe network it is open to contamination and/or influence from microbiological organisms, which can lead to issues such as Legionella.

"You have to ensure that your system is inhospitable to Legionella – and therefore safe for consumption and use, particularly with facilities such as showers and sprinkler systems."

Microbiological mitigation systems can deal with other pathogenic risks such as E. coli, Salmonella, Listeria, Campylobacter and Cryptosporidium.

Bacteria in fuel is also a wider issue for the energy sector, beyond the health and safety issues. Bacteria survive in fuel tanks due to the presence of water, which creates a favorable interface with the fuel, giving bacteria a reliable food source and a suitable environment in which to grow and multiply. Undetected bacterial growth in fuel systems can lead to fuel quality degradation, gas-station and vehicle corrosion, and fuel-system problems. Bacteria and fungal problems can affect fuel and fuel-systems for diesel, jet and other fuels. Intertek recommends that companies have adequate steps in place to monitor and reduce the risk of damage from bacteria.

Intertek works across the energy industry worldwide both on and offshore and also provides health and hygiene systems to leisure and other business sectors. The services form part of Intertek’s global range of services to the energy sector including analytical, consultancy, testing, inspection and quality monitoring services to address operational health, safety and infrastructure issues, as well as fuel-product quality control, R&D and problem solving.

For more information on combating fuel bacterial infestation, go to: /microbiology/oil-and-gas-bacteria-testing/

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Intertek is a leading provider of quality and safety solutions serving a wide range of industries around the world. From auditing and inspection, to testing, quality assurance and certification, Intertek people are dedicated to adding value to customers' products and processes, supporting their success in the global marketplace. Intertek has the expertise, resources and global reach to support its customers through its network of more than 1,000 laboratories and offices and over 25,000 people in more than 100 countries around the world.