July 2007
Special Focus

Achieving zero accidents in marine stimulation vessels

Thanks to application of a safety culture, two vessels operated in Brazil's Campos basin for two consecutive years without any accidents.

Vol. 228 No. 7  


Achieving zero accidents in marine
stimulation vessels

 The application of a safety culture led to two consecutive years without accidents on two vessels in the Campos basin offshore Brazil. 

Luis Alberto Mayor Romero, Osmar Boing and Arcindo Santos, BJ Services Co.

Operations of marine stimulation vessels are considered highly risky by oil and gas industry standards. Activity performed by these vessels includes scale, asphaltene, hydrate, water and sand control, acidizing and hydraulic fracturing. Risks include the hazards inherent in the fluids used (acids of different strengths, non-aromatic solvents, chemical inhibitors, etc.), the pressures under which they are pumped into an oil or gas well, and navigation hazards such as sea and weather conditions and potential leaks. The need to run simultaneous work-such as pumping and maintenance on the stimulation plant-in a confined space adds to the overall health, safety and environmental risk. It is like having the base plant and the well in the same site.

Exposure to chemicals, high noise levels, weather conditions and stress due to marine confinement are a daily reality for the workforce.

The industry has applied intense efforts to minimize these risks. These efforts include incorporation of new technologies, development of better personnel protective equipment, improvement of procedures and workforce training and qualification.

Specific management tools have also been applied to promote an accident-free environment, but additional efforts, including the development and maintenance of a high-level culture focusing on human behavior, will be required to maintain such an environment.

The application of a safety culture, together with traditional safety management tools, ended accidents and led to two consecutive years without accidents by two marine stimulation vessels operating in the Macae formation in the Campos basin, offshore Brazil.

Fig. 1

Fig. 1. The Blue Shark is one of two stimulation vessels operated by BJ Services in the Campos basin. 


The first and main step to create a safe work environment is making workers understand and believe in the benefits such an environment would give them. Safety, health and environmental issues should not be seen as another role or worry, but as inherent parts of the job.

In the past, safety was promoted through shock, by demonstrating the tragic human consequences of accidents. The objective was to use workers’ fear of being hurt to encourage safety. This approach was effective only for a short time. After that, people usually forgot those scenes. Safety was seen as boring, and safety personnel as overzealous police always telling workers what to do and what not to do not.

A more modern approach promotes an understanding of safety as the job of the entire workforce. Each employee has a duty to participate proactively in raising awareness of Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) procedures and to maintain self-discipline in order to prevent injury to his or herself and to others, and to prevent damage to property, equipment and the environment. This change in culture and behavior requires training.

Another key element is to develop an HSE management system. This system serves as a platform to communicate policies, responsibilities and accountability.


In the Campos basin, BJ Services operates the stimulation vessels Blue Shark and Blue Angel. Both are considered “third generation” stimulation vessels.1 Each vessel has Dynamic Positioning (DP) capability and is equipped with three distinct reference-positioning systems: a satellite system with 5-m precision, a radio positioning system and an optical laser system.

In automatic mode, all three systems feed data to the DP control panel, which keeps the vessel at a predetermined position and distance from the platform or drillship. These technologies enable operations without mooring. The system is fully redundant.

In case weather becomes dangerous, the control room is equipped with a remote-controlled, quick-disconnect device. Once activated, the device immediately disconnects the high-pressure hose attaching the vessel to the platform or drillship to avoid a collision.

Other safety features include:

  • Overpressure shutdown systems (pressure-activated automatic shutdown of positive displacement pumps); pressure-relief valves for the critical lines; and a manual shutdown of all positive displacement with a single command
  • Fume- and smoke-detecting systems throughout the vessels
  • CO2 insulation systems
  • Corrosion-resistant alloys (such as Hastelloy C276) for inorganic and organic acid tanks
  • Polypropylene mixture tanks for inorganic or organic acids.

These vessels provide the environmental advantage of minimal waste production. The vessels are designed for the effective cleaning of pumped fluids at a stimulation plant, and a selective trash collection system has been implemented to allow subsequent treatment onshore by specialized companies.

Focus was also given to reducing noise levels and vibrations from equipment plants and generator rooms, and to personnel comfort (e.g., workout equipment, a video and TV room, Internet and telephone access), providing a healthier work environment.


The most important preventive tool used in the vessels is risk assessment, a process that identifies and prioritizes risk so that remedial action can be applied to the higher-risk conditions first. As an example of risk assessment in everyday life, when someone steps up to a roadside curb, he or she stops, looks at the road conditions, assesses the traffic and hazards, plans how and where to cross the road and prepares to cross. He or she is carrying out a risk assessment.

Risk assessment involves both the evaluation and estimation of risk. The process starts with the systematic inspection of a job, task or work activity to identify all the hazards associated with that activity. Risk is then estimated using a set of simple risk assessment tables. Although different individuals or groups tend to assign slightly different levels of risk to the same task, the resulting risk priority ranking should be the same.

The risk assessment process includes the following steps:

1. Prepare a list of work activities and gather all information about the activities.

2. Identify all significant hazards relating to each work activity and consider who might be harmed and how.

3. Identify the effects that may arise for each hazard if it leads to an actual event.

4. Estimate the risk associated with each hazard, assuming that planned or existing controls are in place.

5. Decide whether planned or existing regulatory precautions, if any, are sufficient to keep the hazard under control and to meet legal requirements.

6. If necessary, prepare control measures to deal with any issues found by the assessment that require attention.

7. Re-assess the risks on the basis of the revised controls to ensure that risks are now tolerable.

8. Re-assess periodically to ensure that nothing that might affect the assessment has changed.

All completed work/task activity and risk assessment analysis forms constitute a formal record of each assessment and are discussed at safety meetings held before each job. These meetings follow an agenda and are recorded to ensure that all relevant safety matters are covered. After each job, another meeting is held to discuss how the job was performed as a continuous improvement of the process.

Another effective tool to prevent accidents is the near-miss and hazard investigating and reporting process. A near miss is any incident that could have led to property damage, injury to one or more employees or injury to others but, for whatever reason, did not. Employees are encouraged to report all near misses accurately. The only difference between a fatal or serious accident and a near miss is the outcome. Near-miss reports are treated as opportunities for improvement.

A hazard is any unsafe condition, situation or behavior that could give rise to an incident and that should be addressed. Hazards “exist,” whereas near misses are single occurrences.

All near misses and hazards are investigated, and findings and corrective actions are shared among employees and with other sites through an electronic database. This database is also used to investigate real accidents.

Other preventive tools are internal and external marine inspections and jobsite reviews.

Both stimulation vessels have an annual safety inspection conducted by a senior American Bureau of Shipping surveyor, as well as at least two drydock surveys conducted every five years.

Internal inspections are conducted every six months on the vessels to ensure compliance with BJ Services safety standards. Observations and coaching are an integral part of the inspection process. Coaching should be conducted in a positive manner to facilitate and improve the safe behavior of employees. Safe and unsafe employee actions are noted, and immediate feedback is provided. Corrective actions are required for each deficiency identified in the report.

Field jobs are audited to ensure compliance with company health and safety standards. Audit criteria cover:

  • Correct, safe and environmentally sound job management by supervisors
  • Discussion, assessment and planning for emergencies with the customer
  • Correct, safe and environmentally sound working practices by all personnel
  • Sufficient operational resources on site, personnel on site, district support and time to ensure correct job execution
  • Sufficient and correct safety equipment (worn or installed) to ensure job safety in routine and emergency situations
  • Compliance with BJ Services standard practices and job documentation
  • Technically competent job execution by all personnel
  • Coaching of employees and supervisors

All audit reports are entered into electronic databases. Corrective actions are established for each deficiency identified.

Emergency plans are in place and lead to periodic drills for fire, chemical spills and ship abandonment.


A program to prevent work environment risks and preserve the health integrity of the workforce is in place; it involves anticipating, recognizing, measuring and controlling these risks. These risks are the physical, chemical and biological agents present in the vessels that, according to their nature, concentration, intensity and exposure time, can affect worker health. Examples of these agents are noise, vibration, high temperatures, radiation, dusts and chemical vapors.

The agents that may be present are identified for each task, as well as their generating fonts, propagation ways, exposure time, possible effects on worker health and existing controls.

The next step is to measure the concentration or intensity of these agents and compare the results to the limits established by local regulations (NR-15) or the American Conference of Governmental Industrial Hygienists. When an agent concentration reaches what is called the “action level,” preventive actions and periodic measurements should be taken to minimize the agent’s probability of reaching the maximum allowable dose. For chemical agents and noise, the action level is 50% of the maximum.

Corrective actions are then defined to control exposure to these agents, prioritizing engineering solutions to eliminate, isolate or reduce the generation and/or propagation of the agents. When technical solutions are not feasible or not sufficient to reduce the exposure to acceptable levels, the establishment of administrative actions and the use of Personnel Protective Equipment (PPE) are needed. The adequacy of PPE is carefully studied in each particular case.

A medical program, linked with the work environment program, is in place to check the adequacy and efficiency of the actions established. According to the agent exposure previously identified for each group of workers, a medical doctor decides which examinations will be conducted within the workforce and its periodicity. The results of these examinations offer feedback to the work environment program and track the need to continue the measurements or the need for other investigations.

Both programs and their results are reviewed annually to guarantee continuous improvement and workforce health.


The main environmental management tool used in the vessels is the identification of aspects and impacts. The environmental aspect identification process generates a comprehensive list of activities that may interact with the environment. The potential environmental impacts associated with the aspect are also identified. The categories that may be affected are identified as one or a combination of air, water and human/fauna.

The significance of an aspect is assessed using a simple equation, which incorporates the frequency of occurrence of the activity, probability of loss of control of the system involving the aspect, the potential severity of the associated impact, the cost to BJ and whether or not environmental legislative requirements are involved.


Significance of aspect = F+P+S+L+C

F = frequency of activity occurrence

1 = rare (0-3 occurrences per year)
2 = regular (4-12 occurrences per year)
3 = continuous/continual (13+ occurrences per year)

P = probability of loss of control

1 = improbable
2 = probable
3 = very probable

S = severity of impact

1 = localized and minimal
2 = could impact offsite
3 = major impact on and/or offsite

L = legislation

1 = not covered by legislation
2 = covered by legislation/customer requirement
3 = covered by legislation with permit or registration required and specific parameter (e.g., monitoring, discharge limitations)

C = cost to BJ in terms of finances and/or image and reputation

1 = little to no impact
2 = could have impact
3 = could have significant impact


The scoring assessment is used as guidance only; some judgment should also be applied. An aspect with a score of 10-15 would generally be considered significant; an aspect with a score of 9 or below would normally be considered non-significant. If an environmental aspect is considered significant, controls are identified to manage this environmental aspect. Significant environmental aspects are also considered in setting environmental objectives and targets.

All aspects shall be reviewed at least annually or when operations change.

After aspects are identified, the applicable regulations (federal, state and/or local) and customer requirements are identified. The legislative citations, a description of the citation and other associated information are entered into the environmental management database.

All waste is disposed or recycled through approved vendors. Wastes are characterized before disposal as hazardous or non-hazardous. Manifests and disposal certificates are the records of waste management for each waste stream and are kept in the environmental file.


HSE training provides employees with the skills necessary to complete their work activities in a competent, proficient and safe manner. To meet regulatory requirements, company standards and customer requirements, formal HSE training courses are provided to all new hires (Table 1) and to employees in specific areas (Table 2) within the organization.

TABLE 1. Minimum HSE training requirements for new hires.
Table 1


TABLE 2. Specific HSE training requirements.
Table 2

New employees are required to wear green hard hats for their first six months in field operations. Easily recognized, green hard hats alert co-workers to observe them more closely, and to offer advice and assistance about working safely.


In 2004 and 2005, Blue Angel and Blue Shark performed, together, almost 200 well-stimulation jobs, hundreds of chemical-loading operations and several maintenance jobs without any personnel injuries. This represents almost 346,000 man-hours of exposure to a highly risky activity.

We can conclude that these results were not obtained by luck, but by a consistent development of an HSE culture, based on prevention and training and focused on human culture and behavior. WO  


This article was prepared from SPE 102951 presented at the SPE Annual Technical Conference and Exhibition in San Antonio, Texas, Sept. 24-27, 2006. The authors thank BJ Services for permission to publish this paper and the co-workers who contributed valuable suggestions and revisions.


1 Torres, R. and F. Prata, “The importance of stimulation vessels in Brazilian offshore basins: History of technological evolution,” SPE 94753 presented at SPE Latin American and Caribbean Petroleum Engineering Conference, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, June 20-23, 2005.



Luis Alberto Mayor Romero is country manager at BJ Services in Brazil. He has a petroleum engineering degree from America University, Colombia, and 23 years’ experience in pumping.


Osmar Boing is mechanical engineering manager at BJ Services Latin America and an oilfield technician. He has 30 years’ experience in oilfield services, including stimulation vessels, offshore and land operations in cementing, pumping and stimulation.


Arcindo Santos is QHSE manager at BJ Services in Brazil. He has a mechanical engineering degree from Federal Fluminense University, Brazil, and an HSE engineering degree from CEFET Federal University, Brazil. He has 13 years’ experience in HSE.


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