In the 42 years since it was founded, the world in which Sonardyne finds itself now working has changed beyond all measure. When the company’s first products entered service in the North Sea in the early seventies, everything about the offshore industry was in its infancy; the technology, the techniques, the people and not least, the approach to safety and risk management. “In those days, the whole industry was learning something new every day; issues or problems were identified and resolved as they happened,” recounts John, himself a veteran of many years offshore. “From a HSE perspective, formal risk assessments were unheard of – you just got on with the task in hand, whilst the concept of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) extended only as far as a hard hat and possibly an orange boiler suit. It was common to see guys walking around the back deck in casual footwear with no life jackets.”
The industry’s history books regrettably contain details of incidents that have had a seismic impact upon the offshore community. This July saw the 25th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster which claimed the lives of 167 workers when it exploded on the UK continental shelf.
“Piper Alpha taught the industry a lot – it became one of the earliest catalysts for change, introducing the need for safety management, training and regulation,” continues John.
The Deepwater Horizon explosion in 2010 is another tragic entry in the history books, the aftermath of which seems to have affected the industry perhaps more than most.
“Sonardyne has always placed a great deal of emphasis on safety, but in these ‘post-Macondo’ years, the legislative, cultural and operating environment in which we conduct our business has changed beyond all recognition. As an organisation, we have responded by doing everything in our control to further reduce risk, remove hazards, learn from incidents and keep our people safe no matter whereabouts in the world they are carrying out their work.”
“It’s a challenge, but it’s a challenge everyone in our organisation is responding to,” adds Carl
Part of this challenge includes conforming to the latest developments in contractor verification and management systems. “Portals like ISNetworld allow the oil majors and their contractors to examine the competencies and HSE training history of each individual heading out to work on one of their rigs, vessels or fields before they are accepted on the job,” he explains.
Sonardyne has put a lot of resource into fulfilling contractor requirements and making sure all the company’s offshore personnel register the necessary qualifications and relevant skills. It has been hard work but the organisation is already seeing the benefits. “Our engineers now need to complete over 17 different modules and as a result, one was recently able to join a rig and begin work straight away thanks to his complete and concise HSE preparation before he travelled,” points out Carl. “An engineer from another company who arrived at the same time wasn’t so well prepared so he required additional training and full time supervision by the rig’s operator.”
As part of the growing commitment to safety and contractor verification, this year saw Sonardyne introduce SOPs (Standard Operating Procedures) for every action its field engineers may be required to take. “We have always had SOPs, it’s just now they are fully documented and available for review. There are no shortcuts, the days of reading the manual on the plane and learning on the job are long gone,” remarks John
Sonardyne isn’t only focusing on its external offshore business; the company is radically changing internally as well. “Safety is at the heart of all of our operations and we are committed to an incident-free workplace, both on and offshore,” comments John. “We work with some of the most forward thinking companies in the world, in some of the most challenging environments it has to offer and we recognise that our global workforce and the visitors we welcome everyday can be affected by our day-to-day business operations.”
Sonardyne’s Safety Team invites employees from different departments across its headquarters campus to volunteer their time and expertise. “The team formalises and improves communication and consultation with our people,” says Carl, who oversees the team. “They play a vital role in our goal of implementing a Health & Safety Management system in line with OHSAS 18001.”
The 15-strong team meet once a month to review working practices, comment on upcoming policies, monitor progress and debate key safety issues from each individual work area. The team addresses issues ranging from safe access between the three Blackbushe buildings, the provision of emergency defibrillators and the review of the PPE requirements.“We also have similar employee safety teams established in each of our regional offices to ensure we are consistent throughout the company.”
Training employees to identify and manage risk is another of Sonardyne’s priorities. “We regularly run externally accredited safety courses tailored to each employee’s role. For example, all of our Directors, Managers and Team Leaders undertake internationally recognised IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health) courses. It may sound overcautious but through educating our employees about even the smallest of risks, it will help towards achieving an incident-free workplace.”
“Regular reporting of accident statistics allows the Board to closely monitor the success of the measures we’re putting into place,” explains John. “We monitor our Lost Time Accident (LTA) rate, Recordable Incident Rate (RIR), the number of accidents per 100 employees, near misses and the Reporting of Injuries, Disease and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR). We’re seeing a year-on-year improvement in all areas as we head towards our stringent target of OHSAS 18001. Safe and reliable operations are the number one priority at Sonardyne today. Our corporate standards will be higher than the legal requirements for some of our regions, but that’s the approach we want to take.”
“In some cases, our corporate standards will be higher than the legal requirements for some of the regions we operate in, but that’s the approach we want to take.”