When the new HES regulations entered into force on 1 January 2002, they entailed an expanded focus on safety offshore.
"Towards the end of the 1990s we became more and more aware of the importance of rest and restitution if people are to do a good job in a safe way, explains Eirik Bjerkebæk, (photo) dr. philos, physiologist and principal engineer in the NPD.
During the 2003 annual conference of the Safety Forum, Bjerkebæk spoke about the significance of tiredness and restitution for health, work ability and safety, and about the background for the new regulatory requirements set by the HSE regulations.
Tiredness as a risk factor
"We had received many worrying comments that offshore employees did not get sufficient rest and restitution. A large percentage of those who participated in the survey concerning the risk level on the Norwegian shelf, replied that they felt tired when they went to work."
"At the same time, the industry was writing contracts that became more and more work-intensive, and several new installations were equipped with small living quarters which only were adapted for normal operation and normal manning."
"In addition, new research from the UK showed that diurnal rhythm disturbances and intensive work lead to a longer response time, a poorer ability to read a situation, and sleep disturbances. In such a situation the ability to assess one's own capacity will also be reduced. In other words, tiredness affects the human barriers to dangerous situations. On the Norwegian shelf we have several examples where tiredness has been a significant factor in serious incidents or accidents."
"All this meant that we saw tiredness as a much greater risk factor than what we had previously thought."
Working environment and safety
Until the end of the 1990s, a good working environment was largely thought of as a requirement that safeguarded the employee's health and welfare.
However, in Storting White Paper No. 7 (2001-2002) relating to health, environment and safety in the petroleum industry, and in the new HES regulations for the petroleum activities, there is a clear focus on the connection between the working environment and safety.
"The new regulations put great emphasis on the importance of a good working environment for safe operation."
"There are now more stringent requirements concerning undisturbed sleep and no work at night unless absolutely necessary, and we have reiterated the requirement that overtime must not be planned."
"We have emphasised that the industry must become better at planning their operations so that these matters are taken care of. Another requirement now is that all operations must be planned in advance with regard to the risk caused by poor restitution, night work and shuttling."
Swingshifts are tiring
Swingshifts are another import factor. "Swingshifts" means that the employee has a working period that alternates between day and night shifts. The most common arrangement on the Norwegian shelf is to work night shift during the first week and dayshift the last week. The alternative is continuous shifts, where the employee works either day or night throughout the entire work period.
In the NPD's opinion, the documentation is clear enough to draw the conclusion that swingshifts lead to more diurnal rhythm disturbances and poor er restitution. This should lead to a precautionary approach, making sure such a risk is avoided.
"Those who work swingshifts show more signs of tiredness at the end of the work period than those who work continuous shifts."
"The requirements for rest and restitution were laid down in the new HES regulations that came into force 1 January 2002 and were similarly reinforced in a letter in the summer of 2002. There was mixed feedback from the industry," Bjerkebæk says.
"In general, the industry has understood that the requirements for shared sleeping must be complied with on new installations, and there is a need for better planning and management of the operations so that night work and overtime can be avoided."
"At the same time there is considerable resistance to the requirement that employees normally should sleep alone on existing installations."
"Some companies are working for good cooperation between the parties (employer and employee) in order to comply with the requirements within a reasonable timeframe. Others do not accept that the current extent of shared sleeping represents a deviation from the regulatory requirements, " Bjerkebæk says.