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Q&A - Improving Offshore Safety: OPITO's New Global Standard for Mercury Awareness

OPITO are pleased to introduce our new Mercury Awareness & Management Standard. Our Product Development Manager, Sarah Hutcheon, explains why we have introduced the new important standard below...

What is mercury and why is it something we must consider in the energy industry?

Sarah: Mercury is a chemical element which naturally occurs in the earth’s crust but is released into the environment mainly through human activity such as industrial processes. On and around offshore installations, where hydrocarbons are being produced, mercury can often become present.

What is the effect if mercury becomes present at an offshore installation, and can it be dangerous?

Sarah: The co-production of mercury can affect the integrity of the plant and equipment on offshore installations and, worse, could threaten the health and well-being of workers if it goes unchecked. 

The World Health Organisation (WHO) considers mercury as one of the top ten chemicals, or groups of chemicals, of major public health concern. That’s why training our offshore workforce to be able to identify and mitigate the risks in an environment where mercury may be present is essential.

Why did OPITO decide to develop this new standard? 

Sarah: At OPITO, we are committed to creating workforce development solutions to build a safe and skilled energy workforce. We were approached by ROC Oil and OPITO approved training centre, Falcon Safety Services, in Kuala Lumpur to address this industry challenge collaboratively and worked with them to create this standard to improve offshore safety.


Gordon Weathers, Wells Delivery Manager at ROC Oil, explains… 

“Recently, traces of mercury were found in our Malaysian JV asset's production flowlines. Mercury, known for its environmental and health risks, poses a unique challenge in oil production, demanding immediate and careful action. Our first step was to educate our workforce.

“Realising the lack of industry-specific mercury awareness training, we collaborated with OPITO and Falcon Safety Services to create a comprehensive training programme.

“Our focus was not just compliance, but empowering personnel to safeguard themselves and operations. By equipping our workforce with the knowledge and awareness to identify, mitigate and respond to mercury-related risks, we are not just safeguarding our operations; we are setting a standard for excellence in safety across the industry globally.”


Also, decommissioning activity is intensifying worldwide as more oil and gas production facilities come to the end of their life and we shift towards renewable energy sources. Studies have shown that corroded steel absorbs significantly more mercury than non-corroded steel and so cleaning methods will need to be part of decommissioning strategies. The increase of decommissioning activities worldwide means equipping teams with robust mercury awareness training is even more critical.


What are the benefits of undertaking this standard?

Sarah: The Mercury Awareness & Management standard is designed to allow workers to understand and mitigate the risks within an environment where signs of mercury may be displayed. It could help prevent areas from becoming contaminated by equipping those who undertake the course to plan and mitigate against mercury exposure. This could include those who are not working on site, such as onshore project teams, but are involved in projects where mercury could become present. 

Is this a global issue?

Sarah: Yes, mercury co-exists with oil and gas around the world including in the UK continental shelf, which is one of the offshore sectors most at risk, as well as the deep waters of the Asia Pacific (APAC) region. 

The magnitude of the decommissioning challenge in these areas is also huge. In APAC more than 380 fields are expected to cease production in the next decade. Clearly, the ability of frontline workers to identify the properties and forms of mercury and mitigate and limit the risk of exposure is a worldwide issue. 

Finally, what would you say to encourage someone to take this course?

Sarah: In the offshore industry, safety is paramount, and knowledge is power. The Mercury Awareness & Management standard equips people working in or planning for activities in areas which mercury is, or could become, present with the awareness, skills and measures to reduce risks. It helps to maintain the level of safety which makes us both safe and proud to work in this dynamic industry. 


For more information on the Mercury Awareness & Management standard please contact your OPITO focal point.