The Ocean Ranger

Tuesday, February 15, 2022 9:29 AM

On this day in 1982 after being struck by a large North Atlantic storm, the Ocean Ranger sank and with it all 84 hands were lost.  The Ocean Ranger was the largest semi-submersible drilling rig in service at the time, and like the Titanic, it was thought to be unsinkable.  And like how all safety, engineering, design improvements, and regulations are born through the trajedy of human loss, the Ocean Ranger disaster changed the shape of the oil and gas industry.  To ensure that the loss of life is not in vain it is incumbent upon us all to remember the trajedy but more importantly the lessons learned so that we can recommit to safety and relearn the lessons without additional trajedy.

Some of the lessons learned from the disaster highlighted in the incident investigation included:

  • Engineering and design inadequacies such as the location of a port hole located int he ballast control room, poor ballast pump placement, lack of water tight doors in the chain lockers and the lack of davit launched lifeboats.
  • Inadequate training as none of the crew had been adequately trained in stability concepts or the rig’s ballast control system.
  • Management system failures such as lack of operational control procedures, no detailed ballast control system procedures inthe operating manual, inadequate safety management system (e.g. no basic survival training, lack of immersion suits, no safe means to transfer personnel to the standby vessels), and inadequate response to upcoming storm conditions reducing prepartion time.

Health and safety professionals and psychologists talk about events such as the Ocean Ranger as “significant emotional events.”  Events so horrific, and so tragic that they immediately galvanize someone’s resolve and determination to never experience it again.  In our work environment, they are often fatal losses or severely disabling injuries that often convinces those closest to the events to recognize the connection of how things like personal behaviours, attitude, and risk tolerance have on the event outcomes and this causes these people to change their behaviours.  But wouldn’t it be nice to learn from events and to get the behavioural change without actually having to experience the significant emotional event in the first place?  This is at the essence of learning from our past (i.e., sharing examples like the Ocean Ranger), but also the premise behind the processes we have with tools such as risk assessments, tool box talks, and FLHAs that help us to understand and anticipate what can go wrong and then to devise safeguards and mitigations to prevent the significant emotional event from ever occurring.  Paying attention to the less severe incidents (like first aids), near misses, and SIFp events also provide us with insight that something is not working properly and not delivering the results that we desire.  These “weak signals” are telling us that unless something changes, our luck could run out and we could be faced with dealing with a tragedy very quickly.  As leaders, it is up to us to look at the weak signals and understand what they are telling us and foreshadowing of potential more severe incidents in the future.  These signals allow us to galvanize a behavioural change before having to experience the tragedy in the first place.