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In the shadow of Seveso

Preventing major accidents occupies a key place in the PSA’s supervision of the eight land-based petroleum plants it regulates. Risk assessments at these derive ultimately from an Italian disaster.

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

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The Seveso accident in 1976 led to a 1982 EU directive which requires companies working with hazardous substances to have a policy for preventing major incidents.

“Norway’s petroleum plants on land have a substantial major accident potential, and this is on our minds in all the follow-up we do,” says PSA supervision coordinator Kjell Arild Anfinsen.

These facilities store large volumes of hydrocarbons and pursue complex production processes involving high temperatures and pressures.

Executing development projects or maintenance work while remaining in full operation is one of the biggest challenges facing the land-based plants today.

One example is work on new pipelines into the Nyhamna processing facility in western Norway, which also requires major modifications to be carried out without reducing production.

“Simultaneous operation and modifications call for thorough preparations,” says Anfinsen, who coordinates all the PSA’s supervisory activities on land.

“Good management and cooperation between project and operating organisations are very important in such phases. That can’t be emphasised too strongly.”

He also points to another challenge for the gas processing plants at Kårstø north of Stavanger and Kollsnes near Bergen as well as Nyhamna – the need to maintain high regularity.

“Apart from the consequences for life and health, a major accident at one of these facilities would affect gas deliveries. That could mean a lot for Norway as a petroleum nation.”

The PSA supervises work on preventing major accidents at the land-based plants through Norway’s safety and working environment regulations.

These facilities are also subject to a special major accident regulation because they are regarded as “major accident enterprises”.

Among other stipulations, this regulation requires that the plants prepare a safety report to document that they work systematically on risk assessment and reduction. Because of their proximity to local communities, they also face additional requirements to inform the public about their safety measures and preparations for responding to a major accident.

The major accident regulation has been drawn up on the basis of the EU’s Seveso directive. This is named for the accident at a chemical plant which released large quantities of dioxins, injuring more than 700 local residents.

Revised several times, including in 1996 as a result of Britain’s Piper Alpha disaster, the directive was adopted in its current form in 2012 as Seveso III.

The Norwegian Climate and Pollution Agency (Klif) and the Norwegian Industrial Safety and Security Organisation (NSO) as well as the PSA regulate the land-based plants on the basis of the major accident regulation.

In addition, the Norwegian Directorate for Civil Protection and Emergency Planning (DSB) coordinates government activity under these rules.

Seveso III requires an annual major accident audit at the land-based petroleum plants, done mainly by the PSA, occasionally by Klif or the NSO, and in some cases by all three jointly.

Experience from these checks is good, says Anfinsen:

“We usually have few comments to make. The plants are very familiar with the regulation and good at complying with its requirements.

“Although only one annual audit is conducted at each plant under the regulation, the major accident aspect is included in virtually all audits we do at these facilities.

“That’s because this issue is always part of the overall picture. The HSE regulations set clear requirements for preventing major accidents – through barrier management, for example.

“Continuous improvement is also a key stipulation. This forms the basis for achieving ever better results at the land-based plants.”