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Occupational health and safety: Putting people in the centre

As workplaces move ever further north, the risk picture for employees also changes. A great need exists for increased knowledge in this area.

Photo of Sigve Knudsen
Sigve Knudsen, head of occupational health and safety

The occupational health and safety discipline at the PSA is responsible for physical, chemical and organisational working environment factors. These include noise and vibration, radiation, chemical health risks, ergonomics, worker participation and working-time arrangements.

The subject of human, technical and operational (HTO) factors in a major accident perspective is also central for this discipline.

“An overview of and knowledge about physical working environment factors in the far north, and how these affect the overall risk picture, is important,” says Sigve Knudsen, head of occupational health and safety at the PSA.

“We know in a general way how low temperatures and wind affect health, and a good deal about the possibility of cold injuries,” he notes.

“That also includes the impact of low temperatures on mental functions, which can increase the probability of mistakes being made.

“And we know that exposure to cold in general can worsen existing symptoms of occupational illness, and produce new ones in people who’ve been symptom-free.”

But more must be learnt about actual exposure conditions for groups of offshore personnel, he says. These will probably vary greatly between facilities operating in the far north.

“Some have been winterised, while others offer little weather projection. Our priority is accordingly to learn more, not least by acquiring experience about specific issues.

“We’re working now to secure the best possible basis for following up far northern operations by the companies and to assess technical, operational and organisational measures in the occupational health and safety area.”

Knudsen points out that the PSA has been very concerned for many years about categories of workers particularly exposed to risk. The goal is to give these groups priority.

“We must take this perspective with us northwards,” he says. “It’s important to understand how changed conditions in far-northern petroleum operations affect risk for different groups.

“Another key job is helping to identify gaps in our knowledge where research and development are needed. A case in point seems to be the combination of shift work and exposure to cold.

“The body’s regulation of and probably also sensitivity to temperature are related to its daily rhythm. Shift work could be significant for cold tolerance.”

Finding garments which offer adequate cold protection is no problem today. But identifying suitable clothing for certain specific offshore activities can be a challenge. This is a particular problem where the intensity of work varies considerable. Combining heavy clothing with personal protective gear can also be difficult. New standards which apply to or are significant for the working environment in the far north are under development. Following up this work is a priority for the PSA, partly in order to relate it to the HSE regulations.