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Protecting your business from another Libya

LNG Industry,

The sudden and violent collapse of Libyan authority at the beginning of the year turned the health and safety environment of the country on its head. Previously one of the quietest countries in North Africa, it took a matter of days for the situation to descend into a war zone, becoming one of the most dangerous places in the world. With the air space closed and a number of routes cut off by fighting, many of the expatriate staff working in the oil and gas sector found themselves stranded.

Companies and their employees had to make rapid decisions about health and safety. Not only were levels of violence rising, but looting was on the increase as well, with vehicle and even water supplies stolen from company compounds. Many workers were presented with the harsh reality of existing alone in the Sahara desert – a highly dangerous working environment even during times of peace.

While the vast majority of expatriate workers managed to make it out of the country, many will never want to repeat the experience. In many cases it was also by sheer luck that more were not harmed in the process. So what should companies do to ensure that this sort of crisis does not affect them again?

Working in a hostile region is often par for the course with the upstream oil and gas sector, but it is unlikely that the occasional collapse of a regime will convince energy firms to avoid such areas in the future. A more proactive means of mitigating political and security risks might be to apply the same rigorous health and safety culture of the North Sea to operations overseas. Platform accidents and occasionally violent climatic conditions off the coast of Aberdeen may seem a world away from political turmoil in the Middle East or West Africa, but the approach for tackling these risks is almost identical.

Risk assessment procedures and the implementation of proper crisis management procedures are a good first step. These procedures can be varied and numerous, but one aspect should include a very robust set of evacuation plans. Getting out of harm’s way is often the best way of mitigating the risk of harm to staff, property and company reputation, although it should not be seen as the only solution to a crisis. When unrest spread in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain often the best advice for foreign personnel was to sit tight and avoid going out into the streets. At the same time, many of the companies which had diligently prepared evacuation plans for their Libya operations were overly reliant on air evacuation options. These plans became immediately unworkable when national airspace was closed.

Training is also a major aspect of a crisis management, and the Libya desert is no different from the North Sea in that respect. Unless employees know how to react in the event of a negative situation it can be very difficult to control events, particularly if you are trying to co-ordinate efforts from a head office onshore or in another country. Employees who are trained and who know how to react will likely be much faster at implementing emergency plans. Furthermore there will be a lower risk of panic and accidents. Training is also likely to improve overall team morale and with many oil and gas workers now rethinking the benefits of working in the seemingly unstable north of Africa, training and high spirits will be a vital asset for any company still looking to do business in the resource-rich region.

Author: John Drake, Senior Risk Consultant, AKE Group

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