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Collaboration – our observations

Collaboration is one of the special focus areas for the PSA's 2017 main theme of Reversing the trend. Our audits have confirmed that collaboration is under pressure.

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In 2017, the PSA focused extra attention on collaboration in the petroleum industry. In recent years, we have observed increasing pressure on collaboration, and this topic is one of the special focus areas for this year's main theme of Reversing the trend.

"Collaboration is crucial for safety. The companies must facilitate genuine employee participation, and ensure that statutory schemes like the working environment committees (AMU) and safety delegate service are used fully and constructively," says Eva Hølmebakk of the PSA's working environment discipline.
The PSA monitors collaboration through various activities. In addition to extensive audits, special seminars are arranged on employee participation and whistleblowing, and there is also an R&D project on participation currently underway.

"In companies with a good collaborative climate, where genuine employee participation works well, we see that such collaboration makes a positive contribution to HSE work. Employees help to ensure that management has a good basis for taking difficult decisions and that, once these have been taken, changes are implemented more quickly and they are better entrenched in the workforce", says Eva Hølmebakk.

Experiences from audits
So far this year, collaboration has been discussed in status meetings and a range of audits of the companies.

Collaboration has been a topic in all the status meetings with the companies, in meetings with trade unions and the forum for coordinating senior safety delegates (K-HVO-forum). We have raised the profile of employee participation in audits in general, and have performed various audits specifically addressing employee participation.

So far this year, we have conducted around 30 different audits (meeting series and verifications) in which employee participation has been given greater attention than previously. 

The audits we have performed to date confirm that collaboration is under pressure in a number of places. The concerns and issues are the same as we have seen over many years", says Hølmebakk. 

Experiences from audits – the safety delegate service
We have been aware for some time that the role of the safety delegate service is under challenge. In a number of places, safety delegates are not involved early enough in decision processes and are not given sufficient time to pursue necessary safety work.

The safety delegate service is a statutory scheme, something that the companies are obliged to have.
In our audits, we examine

  • the companies' management of capacity and expertise in the safety delegate service
  • organisation
  • understanding of roles
  • resources/time
  • input on issues
  • involvement in important decision processes

In certain companies, we observe good user involvement and a low threshold for addressing issues offshore, but find that the company is weak on statutory participation of the safety delegate service.

Centralised decisions
In some companies, we observe good, high-level employee participation in the company onshore, but it is far from the sharp end and those who are affected by the decisions. Centralised decisions can present a challenge to genuine employee participation. Experience shows that, in certain companies, there is also a large distance between the offshore and onshore organisations; for example, between the safety delegate service on the individual facility and the HSE department and coordinating senior safety delegate on land.

Unclear distinction between the employee representatives and the safety delegate service
In some places, we see an unclear distinction between the employee representatives and the safety delegate service. Employee representatives have an important role, but they cannot replace the safety delegate service. In some instances, we have seen that strong participation through the employee representative apparatus can be at the cost of the safety delegate service, especially as concerns change processes.

Organisation of the safety delegate service
In terms of organisation of the safety delegate service, it is relatively common for the companies to lack governing documents that show how the participation is to be exercised or expectations of the safety representative role, and hence for there to be poor understanding among individual safety representatives and among line managers of the safety delegate service's role. There may also be little operationalisation and adaptation of expectations and requirements of the safety representatives in respect of the site-specific conditions.

Unclear safety domains
Some facilities and fields have very large and sometimes indistinct safety domains, which we believe makes it difficult for the safety representatives to obtain an overview of risk factors in their domain. In some cases, we also observe a lack of scheduled safety representative meetings, or inadequate documentation of issues.

Less time for safety work
Many mention the fact that less time is reserved for safety work than previously and that safety representatives are involved in issues at too late a stage. Delayed involvement makes it difficult to achieve proper familiarity with issues before the decisions are taken.

Lack of regulatory expertise
The safety representatives must have the necessary expertise, but in our audits we have seen examples of deficient regulatory expertise, inadequate training of the 40-hour-course type, and deficient training in relevant working environment factors in the safety domain.

Experiences from audits – the working environment committee (AMU)

Unclear mandate for AMUs
In audits, we have seen that there may be deficient or unclear mandates for AMUs. In large companies and organisations, there may be several different AMUs and sub-committees, and there is often a lack of clarity concerning their mandates and reporting lines.

Unequal representation
There should be equality around the table in the AMU meetings, but we regularly observe that the employer side has more representatives than the employee side. In some cases, it is unclear who represents the contractors.

Expertise in AMUs
For the AMUs, expertise is also a challenge. We observe that AMU members are slow to take statutory courses. And the courses that many of the representatives from the management side have attended are now superannuated, which may contribute to outdated knowledge on requirements and norms within working environment risk. As with the safety representative meetings, we observe that, for non-participants in AMU meetings, it is difficult to obtain necessary information about the issues and discussions from the minutes. We also observe that issues drag on and recur repeatedly without resulting in binding plans.

In late April, in partnership with the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority, NAV (the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration) and the occupational health services of Rogaland county, we organised a seminar about roles in HSE work and requirements for employee participation.

Presentations from the seminar are available here.

Recently, we have received a number of whistleblower reports that indicate a downward trend in collaboration, and in May, in partnership with the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority, we organised a special seminar on whistleblowing.

See summary of the seminar here.
The PSA and the Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority have also initiated a research project focused on participation. The project, run by Iris and Fafo, aims to investigate the preconditions and challenges for facilitating employee participation at company level and in contract chains within petroleum and shipyard/major construction sites. We are also seeking clarification of the remits and roles of the AMUs and safety delegate service and their interfaces with HSE personnel internally within the company and between companies.

One key question in this context is whether trends in employment are weakening employee participation. We expect the projects to provide increased knowledge on the requirements for facilitating genuine employee participation in the petroleum industry, and hence lead to better decision processes and reduced risk of major accidents and health and workplace injuries.