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Director General Magne Ognedal at HSE lunch: ”We must learn from history

”Why aren’t the lessons learned from the major disasters in the petroleum industry communicated to new generations?” asked Magne Ognedal, Director General of the Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA), in his speech during the HSE lunch at the ONS conference on Thursday. Ognedal is worried that so many people working in the industry today are not familiar with the major disasters in the 1980s.

 The Director General of the PSA reminded the audience of the Alexander Kielland disaster in 1980, which claimed 123 lives. An entire nation was in shock. How could it happen? A few years later, in 1988, the Piper Alpha went up in flames in the British sector, claiming 167 lives. Ognedal experienced the grief and the shock at close range, and made it clear that the disasters radically changed our understanding of the risks associated with oil and gas production.

”But I am concerned that we seem to be forgetting these lessons. New generations do not know what caused the disasters and what the events meant and still mean for our understanding of risks and major accidents,” Ognedal said and emphasised the importance of transferring the lessons learned to the oil workers of today and tomorrow.

 Management responsibility
Ognedal also cited the accident at BP’s Texas City refinery, which claimed 15 lives, and pointed out that making sufficient room for safety in the organisation and daily operations is a management responsibility. “Management priorities have perhaps the greatest influence on handling the risk of major accidents,” he said. A mindset is required that focuses on caring about people, the environment and material assets.

 The Norwegian petroleum industry has a sky-high ambition to become world-leaders in health, safety and the environment. Ognedal pointed out that the industry has a high level of competence and does a lot of good safety work.

“If we are to attain our goals we must all cooperate – management, the employees and the authorities. We have good examples of a tripartite collaboration leading to good results,” he said and mentioned OLF’s commitment to reduce oil discharges and gas emissions on the Norwegian Shelf.

“We now have similar aspirations to reduce chemical health hazards and a successful completion of the lifeboat project,” said Magne Ognedal.

The Norwegian regulatory requirements for the petroleum industry are demanding, but they also offer many opportunities. Ognedal emphasised that the conditions for achieving good results are based on all parties in the industry understanding and respecting their different  roles.

“The companies can choose individual and relevant solutions to reach their goals for safe operations. The supervisory authority is to interpret and enforce the regulatory requirements, which in part is based on the knowledge we have acquired from what has happened before. Respect for the PSA’s role is fundamental if Norway is to attain its HSE goals for the nation’s most important industry. We must ensure that we don’t need new disasters to remember the earlier ones. We all have a responsibility here,” Magne Ognedal concluded.

The renowned HSE spokesman Brian Kohler from Canada reviewed in his presentation the status of HSE work in the petroleum industry over the past decades. Twenty to thirty years ago a certain number of accidents and mishaps was assumed. The authorities and trade unions were the driving forces for changing attitudes towards HSE standards.

“Everyone in the industry plays a part in HSE work. People must understand their roles and make an effort to achieve credibility. Without credibility no one will listen to you,” said Kohler.

He also emphasised that the various parties must respect each other. Kohler concluded by highlighting the climate challenge, and said that the question was not if, but when consumption of fossil fuel has to be reduced.

“The sudden arrival of a technological revelation that solves our climate problems overnight, is unlikely. We must not place most of our concern on the economy, market and jobs, because there will be no jobs on a dead planet,” said Brian Kohler.