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Modelling a safe industry

Norway’s petroleum regime is often referred to as the Norwegian model. This complex system can be hard to grasp, but respecting it is fundamental for managing and strengthening safety.

Many of the concepts used when discussing this mechanism are probably unfamiliar to outsiders – and even to some of those working in the oil and gas sector.

Put briefly, the model involves a clear separation of roles and responsibilities between employers, employees and government, described in Norwegian parlance as the industry’s “parties”.

The mutual understanding and respect of these parties for their own role and that of the others is fundamental to the regime.

Repeated breaches of the principles on responsibility and trust, which form the cornerstone of the system, could lead it to deteriorate and come under threat.

"Repeated breaches of the principles on responsibility and trust, which form the cornerstone of the system, could lead it to deteriorate and come under threat."

All the parties in the industry support the Norwegian model today. That emerges from the report delivered by a tripartite group to labour and social affairs minister Anniken Hauglie last autumn.

This document forms one basis for a White Paper on health, safety and the working environment (HSWE) which is due to be completed in the first half of 2018.

Underpinning the work group’s assessments is a detailed review of existing regulations and supervisory strategy, the position in the petroleum sector and the status of risk trends.

Video: Who is responisble for safety?

In brief terms, the system can be explained as follows.

Responsibility rests with the companies
Each company is responsible for the safety of its own activities. This represents a fundamental principle in the Norwegian petroleum regulations.

That is because only the individual player has the detailed knowledge, the decision-making authority and, not least, the resources to ensure compliance with the regulatory requirements.

The PSA is responsible for establishing the framework for the industry’s activities, and for following up that they are being conducted in a prudent manner.

Its work includes developing the regulations, supervising compliance by the companies and taking appropriate enforcement action (such as issuing orders) after breaches.

The government is responsible for taking an integrated view of regulating the industry and for ensuring that development of the regulations accords with general trends in the sector.

The PSA is also required to assess whether the standards referred to in the regulations are good enough for use in this context.

Employees must participate
Worker participation is a regulatory requirement in Norway. The principle is that the person exposed to risk must be involved in decisions related to HSWE.

One object is to utilise the overall expertise and experience of the workforce to ensure that issues are adequately addressed before decisions are taken.

Safety delegates and members of the working environment committee (WEC) in each company have a special role – and obligation – in this respect.

Companies must facilitate genuine participation, and ensure that legally prescribed arrangements such as the WEC and safety delegates are used in a good and constructive manner.

Tripartite collaboration a prerequisite
Collaboration between companies, unions and government has long traditions in Norway. Where the petroleum sector is concerned, this means that these parties meet for constructive cooperation.

Such improvement efforts also cover safety and the working environment. Two of the most important arenas for this collaboration are the Safety and Regulatory Fora.

A strong consensus exists that the value represented by tripartite collaboration must be preserved.

Regulations are performance-based
Provisions in Norway’s HSE regulations are primarily formulated in terms of performance (functionality). This means they specify what safety level is to be achieved, but not how.

That gives the companies great freedom in determining the specific way they are going to comply with the official requirements.

An important advantage of performance-based rather than detailed requirements is that the regulations are not constantly being outstripped by technology.

The alternative might be a regulatory regime which must be constantly revised to keep pace with innovations and new solutions.

Companies own the risk
The division of responsibility in the petroleum sector is crystal-clear – who owns the risk also owns the responsibility for managing it.

From the government’s perspective, detailed regulation of the industry is neither possible nor desirable. A basic principle is that regulators cannot inspect safety into the industry.

The companies themselves are responsible for ensuring that their activities are pursued prudently and in accordance with the regulatory requirements.

Both guidedog and watchdog
Continuous contact between the PSA and the companies is important for enforcing the regulations. Through such dialogue, the agency plays the role of a guidedog for the industry.

In this mode, its concern is to provide insight into and understanding of the regulatory requirements, and to share knowledge and experience. Dialogue aims to reduce risk and contribute to a continuous improvement in safety.

As a watchdog, the PSA supervises that the companies operate prudently at all times and can deploy enforcement measures (such as orders) if they fail to do so.

An order provides a powerful, legally binding reaction which is imposed in the event of serious non-conformities.

In acute circumstances, such as a hazard or accident which threatens safety, the PSA has the authority to use even stronger sanctions – such as an immediate halt to an activity.