How and why to consider Noise Reduction as essential on offshore platform operations. Risks, rules and due diligence for the welfare of Oil and Gas workers.
Health and safety are a crucial aspect of any offshore operation. Several companies across the Oil and Gas industries are highlighting the importance of preserving the better condition of their workers in the last decades.
One of the most challenging issues is – in facts – operating in such a hazardous environment within a noiseless condition.
As reported by Offshore Europe Journal “Offshore workers are daily exposed to helicopters, loud turbines, and several mechanical noises for an extended time. Despite strict rules imposing the use of hearing protection, noise is still inducing hearing loss. Only in the Norwegian Oil and Gas industry, 600 cases/year of hearing loss are reported.
Nevertheless, researchers from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimate that over 30% of workers in the offshore sector are exposed to noise levels in excess of the action limit. This induces a forecast of 120 million people worldwide with disabling hearing difficulties. For example, new fields – often in deeper waters – are continually being discovered. These often require equipment operating at higher pressures and temperatures, creating even more difficult and noisy conditions in which to operate.
The Noise impact on Offshore workers
Prolonged exposure to excessive noise levels has the potential to create a wide range of long term and often-irreversible health impacts. Beyond these: permanent hearing loss, cardiovascular diseases, sleep disturbance, stress, brain impairment, and mental health issues.
The effects for business should also not be underestimated where the requirement to limit noise levels often leads to lower productivity levels, with a need for increased staffing or shorter hours of operation. At a time when the offshore Oil and Gas industry is seeking to access deeper complex fields, the challenges remain significant and the opportunities for improved occupational health of staff and overall business productivity greater.
How the Noise Regulation has changed
Regulatory changes are also helping the industry to make significant steps towards safer practices. The key pieces of legislation applicable to noise within offshore installations within the UK are the Control of Noise At Work Regulations 2005 implemented under EU Directive 2003/10/EC) and HSE publication OTR2001/068 which outlines technical recommendations for the way in which noise and vibration should be taken into account in the design of offshore platforms. Exposure limits within the Norwegian sector are in line with EU legislation and NORSOK S002 sets similar standards to OTR 2001/068 for living and working areas.
The Control of Noise – as reported on Work Regulations 2005 – reduced the upper and lower action levels by 5 dB from 90 and 85 dB (A) in the previous directive to 85 and 80 dB (A) and introduced a new exposure limit of 87 dB (A).
Equally fundamental, the latest regulations move away from a focus of earlier legislation on assessment, quantification of exposure levels and consequent hearing protection, to a philosophy of controlling noise at source wherever possible.
Within the offshore industry, the move to access deeper fields, coupled with the close proximity pumps, compressors, valves and pipes, and noisy hand tools on a space-constrained single platform, means that specific expertise is required to accurately diagnose and treat platform noise control issues.
Acoustic Enclosures in offshore applications
Due to the increasing demand for higher performance of machinery, offshore manufacturers always seek for packaged acoustic enclosure options to mitigate the noise risk and save space.
Stopson Italiana can rely on more than 50 years of experience with a number of solutions ranging from on-skid mounted acoustic enclosures, on-skid acoustic screening, and both skids mounted and deck mounted fully encompassing acoustic enclosures, designed to be accessible by personnel for equipment maintenance purposes.
In line with the specification, packaged enclosure options include hazardous area compliant ventilation systems and filtration, hazardous area lighting and emergency back-up lighting. The can be equipped with full electrical fit out and terminated at internally or externally mounted junction boxes, as well as fire and gas detection and suppression systems.
In certain applications, it is necessary to consider accidental loads in conjunction with environmental loads. In relation to the design of acoustic enclosures, the most critical accidental loads to be considered in most offshore applications are blast loads. Stopson Italiana can engineer manufacturing enclosures that are designed to meet the specification requirements for the most onerous of blast load incidents.
Beyond the noise pressure levels, these designs need to take into account the spatial limitations in terms of access from/to/around the rig.
With raised health and safety standards within the offshore industry, the requirement for Oil and Gas companies to be compliant to noise control solutions has never been more central. Moreover, a recently changed law which places more crucial emphasis on ensuring employee welfare, noise treatment need to be prioritized through the design and development of offshore suppliers.