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Making an effort on chemicals

After a number of years of criticism over and descriptions of the issue, the petroleum industry is now taking an aggressive approach to reducing chemical risk.


A dedicated industry project, with a management committee drawn from companies, unions and government, is devoting substantial resources to a range of activities.

These are intended to strengthen risk management and enhance chemical knowledge, and supplement the commitment being made by the players on their own initiative.

Gravity
“The industry project undoubtedly represents the centre of gravity for improvement efforts,” says Sigvart Zachariassen, discipline leader for the working environment at the PSA.

That is as it should be, since responsibility for complying with the provisions of Norway’s chemical regulations rests with the companies.

Working at industry level makes it possible to secure the necessary coordination and utilisation of knowledge across corporate boundaries.

After two years of improvement, driven partly by the minister of labour and social inclusion’s personal involvement in 2007, the PSA held a status meeting with several operators last December.

“We’re pleased with much of what the companies are doing,” says Mr Zachariassen.

“Chemical health risk definitely occupies an elevated position in HSE plans.”

But he nevertheless doubts whether this issue has a sufficiently high priority on management agendas.

“When we assess the progress and substantive content of the project’s key activities, we feel the companies aren’t doing enough to get results for use in their own improvement efforts.”

“The industry has large and solid knowhow with chemicals. Nevertheless, we see that this is a way to go in utilising such expertise for improvement initiatives and coordinated collaboration.”

He adds that the faith placed by the companies in what consultants can accomplish often seems excessive.

Contractors
When the operators summed up their work with chemicals, they talked a lot about the risk to their own employees but far less about action to improve the chemical working environment for contractor personnel.

The latter are more exposed to working environment risk, including chemicals, than operator personnel, according to audit experience from the PSA’s work on particularly vulnerable groups.

“It’s not enough that operators require their contractors to comply with the regulations,” Mr Zachariassen emphasises.

“They must also follow up, organise and find solutions which ensure an acceptable working environment for all employees.”