A gas leak near the Hawiyah natural gas plant in Saudi Arabia, caused an accidental explosion killing at least 28 people in November last year. Emergency response teams were immediately mobilised, affected lines were isolated and the fire brought under control.
This is just one recent example of the many, unfortunate accidents that occur under the hazardous conditions of working within the oil, gas and petrochemical industries, and proof that comprehensive training in fire safety is crucial to any organisation.
Employees nowadays have a statutory duty to provide a fire safety induction, and regular fire safety awareness training for their staff, particularly for people working within today's demanding and hazardous oil and gas sector.
In order to prepare employees with the necessary skills required in case of fire related emergencies, there are numerous colleges, universities and organisations that provide relevant fire safety training programmes dedicated especially to those working in the oil, gas and petrochemicals sector. The UAE's national oil company ENOC, is one that provides a number of key qualifications and training in fire safety.
According to Waddah Ghanem, chief EHSQ compliance officer at ENOC, "Safety training comes in many forms including on-the-job training on risk assessments and job safety task analysis and direct training programmes such as HAZOP training, safety management and tool-based programmes".
"However, the UK based qualifications NEBOSH certificate, NEBOSH Diploma, ICertOSH, IDipOSH the Canadian Diploma in Safety and the American certified OSHA programmes are all very good vocational/academic programmes, which provide an excellent foundation to any safety practitioner," he added.
As stated by Ghanem, appropriate fire safety training not only requires written examinations, but practical instruction also plays an important part in the successful completion of any training programme, especially where fire safety is concerned. The Fire Safety Engineering College, regulated by the Ministry of Higher Education in Oman, is affiliated with the UK's University of Central Lancashire (UCLAN) and is also dedicated to the training of oil and gas professionals.
Oman's Fire Safety Engineering College, which currently offers the following programmes: Diploma of Higher Education in Well Engineering; Diploma of Higher Education in Fire Safety Engineering; Diploma of Higher Education in Facilities Management, is said to attract both young and mature students from many different countries within the region. Thus, allowing students to have the opportunity to mix with experienced industry professionals attending vocational courses at the College as well as associating with people with similar levels of competency.
At present the college has 1 000 full time higher education students and offers training for 5 000 professionals every year from different industries and countries. The college also offers around 100 short and mid-duration courses, ranging from basic fire fighting to command and management.
Aramco Fire Training Centre
Another well-established fire safety training facility owned and run by Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabia's national oil company is the Aramco Fire Training Centre (AFTC).
Completed in January 2005, the US $50 million AFTC, situated near Ju'Aymah has the ability to simulate a variety of fire scenarios unlike any other of its kind.
Here, fires are simulated in domestic environments, medical facilities, maritime (ships and tankers), garages, refineries, gas plants, Gas-Oil Separation Plants (GOSPs), offshore platforms, petroleum tanks with floating roofs, wellheads, as well as petrochemical process units and exterior process units.
Using genuine industrial equipment and fire-fighting equipment, the facility has the capacity to generate three-dimensional fires such as those that could be encountered in real process facilities.
Comprising five storeys, the simulator can generate a flowing flammable liquid fire on the third level, that showers burning gasoline onto vessels, pumps, heat exchangers and other process equipment below, a highly realistic scenario that employees may well encounter in a real industrial emergency.
The safety of personnel during training at the facility is critical. The fuel distribution system features an Emergency Shut Down (ESD) system, with which, the Fuel Control Officer (FCO) can shut down all pumps at the touch of a button.
All flammable-liquid fire areas have ‘safe haven' areas with no vertical or horizontal fire, to which each trainee is taught how to get to safety as quickly as possible.
The fire water system has a 12 600-gallon-per-minute capability, delivering fire-fighting water at 100 psi. In order to conserve precious resources, the water is recovered, treated and recycled.
The fuels used at the training centre are kerosene, gasoline, liquid butane and gaseous butane; a typical training fire consumes in excess of one tonne of fuel.
During training fire fighting teams are required to work in coordination, but even in a practice situation, fire fighting can be hazardous and the potential for serious injury is always present. Comprehensive training and appropriate fire resistant (personal protection) gear ensures that the risks are not only kept to a minimum while training, but also when encountering real fires.
In accordance with the growing awareness over fire safety, particularly within the oil and gas sector, has secured an increase of interest and demand in fire resistance products. This is especially true since the dangers of flash fire and/or explosion are an every day worry for industrial workers.
According to Eckhard Pruy, CEO of EPOC, organiser of Fire and Rescue Middle East "The sustained interest being shown by leading companies and professionals, in Fire and Rescue Middle East, reflects the dynamism within the fire fighting, safety and fire-rescue industry as a whole...presenting an opportunity to look back on the industry's progress over time, and look forward to future developments of this crucial and burgeoning industry".
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