Whenever we design an oil and gas facility, the safety of the staff operating that facility is of paramount importance, and thus quite a bit of effort is spent on assessing safety issues throughout the design phase . When it comes to an offshore platform, addressing that aspect is even more challenging. Not only is the facility layout much more compact, resulting in minimal distances between the various operating units, but the structural integrity is essential to provide solid ground to those on the platform.
Over the years we have gained a lot of experience about how to create safer work environments to the point that most of us take it for granted whenever we set foot on an offshore platform. Sure, we attend the safety briefing, but to be very honest I often have the impression that people pay as much attention as they do to the flight attendant during the safety message before takeoff. And then when we attend to our business we seldom pay attention to all the design features that provide that safe work environment.
Similarly during the design phase of a platform, most of us don’t pay too much attention to those features either; we leave it to the specialists to incorporate them into the final design. Sometimes that approach leads to design changes late in the process that could have been avoided if the entire design team had a better understanding of those features.
Last year at the Offshore Technology Conference there were three papers that provided some very interesting information on one of those features: fire protection. One of the papers dealt with passive fire protection (PFP) used to avoid or at least delay the global collapse of offshore installations. Current practice is to coat the structural steel members with fire protection on three sides with the top flange unprotected, and the paper discusses this approach as well as pros and cons of some alternatives.
The second paper also deals with PFP, not just on structural steel members, but also on pressurized vessels and piping, and suggests a risk-based approach to optimize the extent of the PFP. The authors conclude not only that through this approach the amount of PFP may be significantly reduced compared to what is deemed necessary using conventional methods, but more importantly that this approach identifies failure mechanisms with greater accuracy.
The third and final paper covers fire and blast resistant walls and presents an overview of 50 years of experience with these kinds of walls, as well as a new generation of wall using prefabricated sandwich panels.
Together these papers will provide most of us with a much better understanding of these fire protection topics and a better appreciation for some of the design features to provide us with a safe working environment on offshore platforms. And for those of us involved in the design of offshore facilities, this better understanding may even result in fewer changes during the design of future projects.
Gerald Verbeek, Selection Editor
Verbeek Management Services