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June 2011 Issue

'Golden Rules' for Safety in Crane Transfer Operations
By Philip Strong
Providing safe and efficient access to offshore installations remains one of the great challenges for the offshore industry. More than 5 million marine transfers are performed in the offshore oil and gas sector each year, which make them a vital industry activity and the dominant form of transport for many offshore workers worldwide.

The past few years have seen a marked increase in the focus on the safety and efficiency of crane transfer operations, which are increasingly being viewed as a preferred choice for offshore crew supply operations. Even in areas where helicopters have traditionally been the first choice for crew transfers, there has been increasing focus on providing a reliable fallback. These issues were further highlighted due to recent problems that led to the grounding of helicopters in many parts of the world because of various incidents, concerns about safety and even disruption caused by volcanic ash clouds. Fortunately, crane transfer can be a reliable fallback, and improvements in best practices will further increase confidence in this option.

All crew transfers, whether performed by boat, crane or by helicopter, are potentially high risk, but for marine personnel transfer, these can be significantly reduced if proper procedures are followed. Developing rules didn't happen overnight. It all started when Reflex Ma?rine Ltd. (Turo, England) and industry partners Seacor Marine (Houma, Louisiana) and Spar?rows Offshore Group Ltd. (Aberdeen, Scotland) created a set of "golden rules" to prompt operators to consider a range of diverse factors that influence the safety and efficiency of crane transfer operations.

Reflex Marine began working with Seacor Marine to develop a crew transfer solution for use on its CrewZer–class high–speed catamaran vessels. One of the vessels where a number of the golden rules principles were formed, the Seacor Cheetah, has been working in Angola for more than a year without incident and has completed more than 30,000 passenger transfers. An in–depth working relationship developed between Reflex Marine and Seacor Marine during the development and optimization of Seacor's CrewZer–class services, allowing the companies to focus on developing best practices for the industry. This work was further enhanced by input from Sparrows Offshore and led to the development of the golden rules.

Each operation is unique, so it is vital to understand and know site–specific risks, identify the key risk drivers and ensure extra scrutiny is provided when lifting personnel. It is necessary to know the competency of vessel and installation crews. The crane operator and vessel master are of particular importance in these operations.

The specific vessel engaged is a major consideration, in particular its station–keeping, stability, deck space and adjacent collision risks. Familiarity with the installation and communications are also influential.

A good landing area is essential for a safe transfer. It should be a large, clear deck, free of obstacles and trip hazards. Identifying any specific hazards in the preoperational planning is essential. Planners must also be aware of the capabilities and limitations of their cranes (modern offshore cranes are designed to meet the challenges of lifting in the marine environment). Crane location is also important, particularly lift height and line of sight to the vessel.

Crews must check the prevailing weather and sea conditions and discuss vessel positioning and station–keeping with the vessel master and the crane operator to identify specific risks or concerns.

There are a range of personnel transfer devices on the market, from the most basic to the more protective, so the equipment selected should be suitable for the operating envelopment and risk levels. Checks should be done on whether all equipment is in good condition. Rigging (slings) are of particularly crucial as they are prone to damage and degradation.

Passengers should be well trained, fully briefed and wear personal protection equipment appropriate to the conditions of the transfer. The lifting path should be planned, as many incidents result from collisions due to swing when picking up from the vessel deck. This is caused by misalignment of the load on the moving vessel. Pay attention to collision or snagging hazards and where possible, lift over water and not the vessel deck. Retain a line of sight to the load as far as possible, and if in doubt, perform dummy runs with no passengers. If there are still doubts about the ability to perform the operation safely, suspend the operation.

Crane transfer can be an essential tool for managing emergencies, such as medical evacuations and other evacuations, so crane transfers should be integrated into emergency planning, and crews should perform drills to confirm their capabilities.

Finally, many factors can complicate transfers and increase risks. Such risks should be recognized and managed. Common factors include lifts from moving structures (such as monohull vessels), extreme weather, poorly specified vessels, inexperienced crews and poor installation layout. Seek expert advice when appropriate.

The partners in this initiative have compiled a high–quality briefing video and have agreed to make the golden rules available to the whole industry on an open–source basis—for example, the video will be made available online to download. Our belief is that this will help to raise industry standards which will ultimately benefit all the key stakeholders.

We all expect our commute to work to be safe, whether by road, rail, land or sea. And our families expect that journey to be a safe one, too. We hope and believe this initiative will be an import step forward in this regard and that the risks associated with vessel–based transfers will continue to fall.

Philip Strong is managing director and co–founder of Reflex Marine Ltd. In his early career, he worked in well construction and production operations with major operators, later specializing in deepwater operations. Strong, a bachelor of science in engineering, has several patents and is credited as the inventor of the reamer shoe.


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