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Clearing up the confusion

Different interpretations of the barrier concept, and of how to apply it, have prevailed in norway’s petroleum sector. So the PsA is providing an important guideline for the industry.

This article was originally published in
Safety - Status and Signals 2012-2013

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Good barrier management gives better risk overviews, analyses and decisions, and thereby improves safety. But it calls for a willingness to comprehend the requirements and the ability to implement these in the company’s organisation.

A decade after the barrier concept was introduced, the PSA still sees challenges in getting the whole industry to grasp what such thinking actually involves and what action is needed.

“After the concept was incorporated in Norway’s petroleum regulations in 2001-02, we quickly saw that companies varied in their understanding of it,” says Torleif Husebø, discipline manager for process integrity at the PSA.

“The level of maturity in the industry was very uneven, with clear differences between players in their interpretation and acceptance of the new barrier management requirements.

“Some companies have worked well with this, while others still struggle to implement the demands. And confusion can also prevail between different units or discipline teams in the big companies.”

Thinking coherently and sequentially is crucial for effective barrier management, with identification of risk factors and the threat they pose as the first step.

That must be followed by a strategy for dealing with the defined scenarios, establishing barriers and determining performance standards for these.

The final stage is to monitor, measure and follow-up the barriers – a logical sequence in the management organisation which calls for expertise, analysis and a coherent perspective.

“It’s often the case that companies lack a coherent and overall view of barrier management,” explains Husebø. “Problems often arise at the interface between different disciplines/units.”

Through audits, investigations and surveys, the PSA has identified differences between playersin their grasp of and compliance with the regulatory demands for barrier management.

That has resulted in failures to comply with the regulations which are significant for safety, and the PSA has followed these up through its supervisory activities.

This work has highlighted a need to make the regulatory requirements related to barrier management more easily accessible.

An explanation is also needed of the way the PSA, for its part, relates the stipulations in the regulations and guideline texts with the content of relevant standards.

The PSA has accordingly produced a document on Principles for barrier management in the petroleum industry to clarify the intentions behind these requirements. However, it does not form part of the formal petroleum regulations.

Barriers are one of the PSA’s main priorities for 2013.

Metaphorically speaking
The word “barrier” derives from French and basically means a fence, obstacle or sharp division. But it embraces much more where safety in the petroleum industry is concerned.

This term usually evokes associations with something solid – a wall, a palisade or a specific separator.

In a metaphorical sense, however, and the way the concept is to be understood for petroleum industry safety, a barrier embraces more than just the physical obstacles.



Technical, operational and/or organisational elements which individually or collectively reduce opportunities for a specific error, hazard or accident to occur, or which limits its harm/drawbacks.

Barrier function
The job or role of the barrier. Examples include preventing leaks or ignition, reducing fireloads, ensuring acceptable evacuation and preventing hearing damage.

Barrier element
Technical, operational or organisational measures or solutions which play a part in realising a barrier function.

Barrier management
Coordinated activities to establish and maintain barriers so that they maintain their function at all times.

Performance requirements
Verifiable requirements for barrier element properties to ensure that the barrier is effective. Performance requirements include such aspects as capacity, functionality, efficiency, integrity, reliability, availability, ability to withstand loads, robustness, expertise and mobilisation time.