All posts by Christine Hodge

Council Routinely Removed Safety Guards

At a recent hearing Nottingham city council admitted fault when one of their workers suffered hand injuries. According to one of their employees was trying to unclog a lawn mower when his right index finger was severed and other fingers on his hand were damaged.

Screen shot of the source article
The 22 year old worker was on site at a Seagrave Primary School on 21 August 2014.

During an investigation the HSE found that safety guards were routinely removed by council staff in order to access blockages more readily. This was against the recommendations of the manufacturers. In short, a flared guard that covered ejected clippings was replaced by a simple hinged gate much closer to the rotating blade. Granted you had to have the blade rotating in order to get any serious injury.

The council was fined £33,000 with an order to pay £12,000 costs. They were also criticised for failing to supervise apprentices and failing to properly train people in using the lawnmowers.

There are pictures of the modification but I am not sure of the permission to use issue. Below is the source reference. The lessons should be obvious. If you pick up a bit of kit that has been modified be suspicious. Never trust electric tape, duct tap, bolted on bits or empty bolt holes…ah, if it looks messed with leave it to the idiot that messed with it.

Source: Click here. 


Chris Hodge


Curtain-Side Trailer Death Could Have Been Prevented

63 year old, William Price, was converting a curtain-sided trailer into a flat bed when the frame he was removing fell. Mr Price suffered injuries to his head and died. Wolverhampton Crown Court was told that  ATE Truck and Trailer Sales had commissioned the scrap metal dealer to remove the excess frame. It was while Mr Price cut the roof off that the 500 kg structure collapsed.

The firm defended the allegation that there had never been any risk assessment of such activities. They pointed out that in the past the operation had been successfully carried out using two workers and a sling. The judge felt that not formally conducting a risk assessment was a sufficient breach in order to convict. The firm was fined £475,000, plus £20,000 costs and this was in addition to the £100,000 price tag of their defence.

picture of aman with long hair in his 60s
On 21st Feb 2013, Mr Price, 63, died while converting a curtain-side trailer. Click the picture to link to the original article.

Judge Barry Berlin, said: ‘The requirement of a risk assessment in circumstances like these is not just good practice but a fundamental and mandatory legal requirement. This was a plainly hazardous activity.’

The lack of a formal risk assessment is a factor that runs through so many of these cases. It is almost as if there is a degree of belief that self employed people are not subject to the risk assessments of the employing firm. I am not saying who was at fault, the court case was specific to the incident. I am saying that while self employed people are on site they must be aware of any risk assessment the employing firm has undertaken. If there isn’t a written assessment they shouldn’t commence the work.

Take care,


Chris Hodge

The Highest Work Place Fall Survived

When you talk of falls being potentially deadly it shouldn’t be a dry subject, it is though. We as humans have to face the uncertainty of each day no matter what job we do. If it isn’t falls that could kill us it is a range of other accidents plus our own weird biology. It is better to have a few incredible tales at hand to sprinkle into the same old training. The highest work place fall survived by anyone was the fate of Vesna Vulovic .

On the 26th January 1972 Vesna greeted passengers on the ill fated JAT Flight 367. It should have flown to Belgrade from Stockholm, however, over Czech airspace it broke into two as the result of an explosion. There is still controversy about the cause. What is not in doubt was that Vesna was pinned into the severed rear section of the DC 9 by a waitress trolley. When they found her Vesna had crushed vertebrae, broken legs and a fractured skull. The 22 year old was in a coma for 27 days and had no knowledge of the incident.

White DC 9 in a colour shot from 2009. Seen here climbing at a 45 degree angle.
Wikipedia shot of a DC9 climbing sharply. Thanks to Wikipedia, Anthony92931

The crash killed everyone except her and has been officially blamed on a bomb planted by Croatian terrorists.  In total it is thought this young stewardess fell 33,000 feet. She was presented with a Guinness Book of World Records award by Paul McCartney in 1985.

black and white passport type shot showing a pretty light haired girl.
Vesna Vulovic when she was 23.

Since then it has been suggested that a Czech fighter jet mistakenly shot the passenger plane down as it tried to complete an emergency landing. If true the fall would have been around 2600 feet. That might not be a record but it is still way over the normal safety limit. As it stands the fighter jet story is only circumstantial so Vesna still holds the title.

Heroics on the Ground

Rightly this lady was seen as something special in her home country of Yugoslavia. She was brave about flying again and heroic when she stood up against nationalists and Slobodan Milošević throughout his awful time in power. She died in 2016 at the age of 66 and try as I might I cannot find a cause.


Chris Hodge

Main source article The Daily Telegraph


Other Places and Their Weird Work Place Risks

Two bear cubs play fighting

I have been at sea when it is frankly scary. I have been out in gales that make you dream of home, wine and box sets.  There are near misses that are planted in my mind as well. What I don’t have is experience of being charged by a bear while at work. There are two reasons for this.

First I live in the UK and work in Kent. There are no bears roaming free. The second reason is I am not completely stupid like the guys in the below video. Have a look.

The Daily Mirror carried the story. It said 3 workers and the dog were attacked when the mother bear charged. There were rumours that the story was hyped, however, I can see the cubs, then the mother. I live in Liverpool, England. We have a few predators you should be aware of but no bears. The point is even I know cubs bring mother, mother is bigger and when it comes to bears they attack to defend their young. So what were those guys laughing at? Why were they not grabbing the dog and heading for the van?

The other day I read of a mysterious bug killing workers in Indonesia and the threat from sharks to fishermen. It is possible that my reaction to such risks would be extreme because I have not dealt with them. Is it a case of familiarity breeding contempt that causes workers in Siberia to reach for their camera rather than taking to their heels?

I’ll take the opportunity to work anywhere, but in many ways I am glad of my British experience of work place risk. I will leave you with some North Americans showing a more respectful approach to work place bears. A very big work place bear at that.

Take care out in the woods,

Chris Hodge

Invest Your Millions in the Solar Revolution

That’s right forget the cold and the rain. Put behind you the freezing waters of your favourite work place. Invest your millions in the solar revolution.

So obsessed am I with this industry that I can’t help go all over the web looking at tech advances. On the site I saw a presentation about a new crystal that is going to dump all previous solar panels back into the shadows of history.

No seriously. Some heavy weight scientific names claim that silicon, the staple of solar panel manufacture, is past it’s sell by date.

a bank of blue solar panels
A bank of solar panels. Is silicon about to become a thing of the past?  Photo by AleSpa (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons
According to James Stafford of OilPrice the use of silicon to get the maximum advantage from the sunlight the panels absorb has reached a critical point. For sometime those in the field have been looking around for an alternative and now they have one.

He claims the new crystal can absorb 50% more energy than silicon. It is light, cheap to produce and versatile. I focused on the weight reduction promised in the future. Currently solar panels are heavy. that is heavy to transport, heavy and cumbersome to install. They need a complex process in order to exist in the first place. Worse, yeah I do believe this is a major point, they look awful. They are not so bad if you set them apart from a building in a bank of them, but they make a house into a science experiment.

During this presentation Mr Stafford is pointing out an opportunity to invest in panels that could even be transparent or coloured to blend into their surroundings.

Go for the financial side if you want and do so at your own risk. My point in writing about it is this: Even if the ‘revolution’ in solar power does not come to pass this idea is a salutary reminder to our industry to keep on trucking on.

Human beings appear to me to have an inherent need for stability. Sure we may well be great innovators in one area, but overall we look at the next 10 maybe 15 years on a personal level. In the Northern Hemisphere solar panels are not such an attractive proposition. Even if this new crystal behaves in the way it is claimed, well take a look out the window.

What about the Southern Hemisphere? What if something came along to make solar power more viable. What if that something was so viable that cars were charged for minimal cost? What about so viable light industry was powered by it?

Have a look yourself on the link below. The presentation is 49 minutes long so I suspect only the die-hard techies will see it through, it was more the concept that intrigued me. Perhaps we shouldn’t just look down here for the competition, we should also look up every now and again.




A Nice Animation of Deep Water Drilling

Hello, I was working on something the other week and I came across the below. It is a nice animation of the rough principles of offshore deep water drilling.

I’m sure the veterans could find some technical points that were missed, but for those just wondering how it is done this film fits the bill. I’m often amazed by the progress in technology that rolls out worldwide in this business, however, the fact is oil and gas is down there and needs to be up here. This is how it is done.


My speciality is the safety aspect. First there are the people and environmental concerns, closely behind that is the need for efficient and profitable working. Without profit there is no people, without people there is… well you get my drift.

I am proud to be dedicated to this field. All that is said with a purpose, if you have any questions you think I can help with, let me know.


Chris (Christine) Hodge

The Remarkable Shell Prelude FLNG

The sheer scale of the Shell Prelude FLNG is remarkable. So is its purpose for existing. At 488m long and 74m wide it is colossal. The Empire State building would look stumpy next to it and the One World Trade Centre in New York is a mere fifty or so meters higher than the vessel is long. Such comparisons are fine but this is a ship so let’s talk other ships. Here is a very rough visual demonstration.

colour picture of the full scale of Prelude, red hull with processing apparatus across the whole deck
Shell Prelude at 488 metres. C/O The Shell website


photograph of Titanic
RMS Titanic at 269m
colour shot of the QE2
QE2 at 294m

A One Stop Refining Shop

The Prelude field is located off the north west coast of Australia and that is where this massive processing ship will operate. It will be the world’s first floating liquefied natural gas processing platform.

The below explains all about it in glorious Technicolour. My reasons for mentioning it is because it is a marvel. Given the fierce competition in the industry today and the multinational sources of supply who knows if there will be another one on this scale?


I have left the best chunk of hugeness about this project until last.

The Prelude is a mostly South Korean masterpiece. Dock yards with 5000 workers who start the day with team building exercises. I was born just after the era of the ship yards in my home county. Granted, there the workers started each day with a cigarette and a bacon sandwich but they got the job done. I digress, all those workers building for Technip Samsung, using 250,000 tons of steel, how much will it cost?

Estimates run to  12.5 billion USD. That is just a little under the amount the entire Olympic Games cost in London. Impressive, now all they have to do is get it out there and working.




Focus on Offshore Helicopter Safety

A focus on offshore helicopter safety happens for me every time I get on one.  They are the blessing and curse of any offshore worker’s rotation. Nothing is more disappointing than to be psyched up ready for off and then we get the dreaded delay.  Once on board , though familiarity puts risk to the back of my mind to some extent it is always there.

In recent years there have been many changes to operating helicopters offshore, so do any preventable risks still exist?

What Tends to Go Wrong

It is tempting to turn this article into a memorial piece. Our hearts go out to the people who both are killed and injured when a helicopter goes down and the people they love left behind. Maybe I lament these accidents so much because of the nature of these tragedies. I love my job but I get on those aircraft in order to earn a living, not for leisure. They are the scene of elation at the thought of a trip home and sometimes shear determination at the tasks awaiting at sea.

However, forefront of my mind while writing this is the reality that such accidents are rare and for example it is still statistically safer than a drive to the supermarket..

The last oil and gas related air accident to occur (North Sea) was when thirteen were killed while travelling to Bergen, Norway from the Gullfaks B Platform.  A sudden failure of the planet gears caused the rotor to detach.

Safety issues that are peculiar to offshore air transport were not really relevant in this case. The weather was good, the pilots were not challenged regarding visibility and the loss of life was not due to the peculiarities of operating over a hostile sea. Sadly the stricken aircraft crashed onto a small island.

This sudden catastrophic failure was caused by a previous fault that was unknown  to the pilot and remains of an unknown origin at the time of writing.

Previous accidents, however, have driven the search for improved safety features and operating parameters.

A look at accidents that have forced a helicopter down while on North Sea operations shows they were primarily caused by mechanical failure. In almost all cases, though warned that something awful had occurred, crew had no chance to rectify the situation before the aircraft had to descend. In cases where the primary cause was not mechanical, such things as lightening strikes and poor visibility featured significantly.

The thing is we in this region are not exclusively at risk. Wherever offshore air transport is used the same issues occur. The last such tragedy happened only a month ago off the coast of Angola. Six people lost their lives when a  chopper came down in the sea while flying in poor weather.

So What About the Future?

In many cases it is not the impact that kills. Rather it is the conditions you find yourself in.

First there is the escape. After studying other accidents the CAA ( UK Civil Aviation Authority) required improvements in planning for an emergency. The most significant was that Cat A emergency breathing systems (EBS) were required for passengers. This was because taking enough breath in order to escape a capsized aircraft was not always possible based on the physical condition of both the personnel and aircraft post impact. More time was needed.

The limitations of types of aircraft were examined and the weather they could fly in was restricted to improve the likely hood of the chopper remaining upright and floating. In addition, it became mandatory that operators ensure the flotation systems could be deployed automatically if needed and that all seating should be adjacent to an escape point.

full rig of a life jacket and cat A  EBS system
Cat A EBS uses compressed air as opposed to the old re breather systems. This means they are easier to use especially when deployed under water.

Particular attention was given to the issue of the buoyancy of the helicopter itself.

I think it would be fantasy to look at the dynamics of chopper design and believe you could get them to behave in a heaving sea just like a boat. However, how long that lump of metal floats for is the main issue when it comes to surviving a ditching.

A good example of this was when in Feb 2009  all hands were rescued after the chopper they were in deployed flotation and ditched. The sea was relatively calm and as a result the aircraft remained upright about 120 miles offshore of Aberdeen.

It is when the aircraft rolls over that things become critical. This happens for a variety of reasons, the flotation system, being low down, can be damaged on impact or the angle of descent makes it unlikely it will float upright in the first place.

So the CAA pointed to systems where a flotation device acts as back up to the conventional ones already fitted. This second line of defence is encased high up on the air frame. In heavier seas as the chopper tilts in order to capsize the secondary air bags may prevent it turning over. If it does go over tests show it will tilt leaving an escape gap and possible access to air. This means there is a  significant angle in the water, it is not perfect, but for those battling to escape it could provide vital minutes to clear into life rafts.

So Here is the Rub

Chapter 9  ( P39) of the CAA – Safety review of offshore public transport helicopter operations deals with the ditching of choppers in the sea.

In ‘actions’ it lists many of the changes we might have noticed since mid 2014.  There are quite a few and all the easier ones were given time limits that have since passed. However, the side flotation devices that would back up the main floats and minimise the danger of capsize were only recommendations.

I am not dismissing the positive effect and action regarding this report or the improvements the operators have made. I am saying that given surviving in these situations is difficult then any and all measures to increase the likely hood of survival should be taken and should be mandatory.

It was found that there were designs of helicopter that could likely float in gentle sea states, but any weather above sea state 5 presented problems for all. This is due to the high centre of gravity caused by the position of the engine, gears and transmission.


So it is acknowledged that in conditions like the above helicopters will struggle to stay upright using standard emergency flotation. The below shows how in good conditions a chopper behaves post ditching.


In the EASA research (below) they anticipate that even with the additional floats the helicopter will partially capsize, however, tests show that an air pocket and open gap would be available to aid escape. If that gap exists, granted it would be terrifying, then extra time would be afforded to at least some of those trapped inside.

What do you think? Do you know of any such systems fitted? At the time of writing I can find no mention of them on the web nor is there a mention of calls for them to be introduced beyond the recommendations of two plus years ago.

The only useful thing I can say from reading the documents I have put links to is that being familiar with the particular aircraft you find yourself in is vital. If a new or unfamiliar type lands on the helideck then take extra time to look at the devices for opening emergency escape points.

It was found that in past accidents even the unfamiliar way a release system operates has cost lives.


Chris Hodge




Source information, CAA report, EASA final report,


Does Economic Downturn Threaten Offshore Safety?

This is just a quick thought and sign post for the below article. The suggestion is that offshore safety is in danger of being compromised when the drive to make a profit in hard times becomes the main priority.

After each safety lapse another report will come out and most, such as the Cullen and Key Performance reports, can be said to have great value. The reality is of course that there are no jobs without a healthy income, however, the financial consequence of compromising safety can be catastrophic. That is without mentioning the moral and legal after effect of reckless working practice.

Frank Doran wrote in HSE International of the link between pressure in economic downturns and safety lapses. The article, written in March 2015, might be best judged now with the benefit of 18 months hindsight.

Frank makes many good points. I also think he illustrates well that when the clock is ticking toward a deadline and when the squeeze is on financially, that is the time to take more care. I thought I would give it another mention. See what you think.

Opinion: Remembering Health and Safety Offshore


Wild Well Control Sort of Like Thunderbirds

The history of emergency services out in the wilds is as fascinating as any thriller written about spies and cops and robbers. Of course for those outside this industry their contact with the like of Wild Well Control has been no more than an old movie and occasional TV news items.

poster of John Wayne in front of a well fire .
Original poster for the 1968 movie

John Wayne played a character called Chance Buckman in a 1968 film about a hard nosed oil fire fighting outfit. Apart from that these people, the ones we hope to never call, largely go unnoticed.

The Glory Days

There probably were earlier examples of controlling a runaway well but the recognised grandfather of the emergency control business was Myron M Kinley’s dad. In 1913 Karl Kinley used dynamite to ‘blow’ out a gushing fire in California. Myron and his brother took the primitive technique and became the pioneers to call when everything went pear shaped.

black and white of a caucasion male in a wax style coat and hat.
Myron M Kinley. Pioneer innovator in the field of oil fire fighting.

From him you got the like of Red Adair, the charismatic celebrity of the oil fire business. Adair, who John Wayne was said to have been loosely portraying, was the main man in the industry for many years. He, along with Wild Well, were one of the contractors that tackled the Kuwaiti fields when they were torched by retreating Iraqi troops.  Earlier he had been called in to the tragic aftermath of the Piper Alpha disaster.

black and white of Red Adair in suit, dark hair
Red Adair in 1964.

Many of the next generation in this specialist field learned from the like of Adair. Among those that moulded early efforts into a fine art and adapted operations to Thunderbirds standards was one Joe R Bowden Sr.

The Battle for Elgin

In 2012 in the Elgin field (main platform) work was underway to seal a well. Things went very wrong. Petrol condensate fired into the air and 238 personnel from Elgin and two other operations were evacuated.  Later reports concluded that luck had played a big part in preserving life. Fortunately the winds stopped a inflammable cloud from coming into contact with the flaming stack.

150 miles away in Aberdeen, Scotland, there happened to be a Wild Well Control staging point.  The idea Bowden Sr developed was to maintain a base in Texas, however, put the heavy kit required for emergencies near where you may need  it.

A system failure in February 2012 led to repairs and the attempt to close the well. After ten days control was lost. It took a further fifty one days to bring the crisis to a point it could be managed. Unfortunately by that time thousands of tons of condensate had settled on the sea. Understandably marine conservationists were less than happy.

French giant, Total,  was fined later for safety breaches that led to the accident but far worse for them was the year the platform was offline.

Wild Well Control’s 80%

That is the  share of the Thunderbirds type business that Wild Well have. They claim even more customer loyalty in the oil and gas industry in the USA.  More importantly from my point of view they bring their unique experience into the safety and preventative field. They have dedicated HSE teams which give an insight into the importance of safety procedures that have real clout.

I hope you never NEED to contact them, however, if you want to look at this specialist area  with a view to your future they promise excellent training. Click here.