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Helping to reduce exposure

Icy winds, heavy lifting, static posture, irregular sleep – some groups of workers are more at risk than others. The PSA is now challenging the industry to identify these categories and follow them up.

All petroleum industry employees must enjoy an acceptable level of HSE, regardless of the jobs they do and other frame conditions. But the risk of suffering injury or occupational illnesses has proved to vary between different categories of workers. 

The PSA launched an audit last November of how the biggest operators and selected offshore contractors monitor groups of employees who could be particularly exposed to risk.

In the agency’s view, an overall picture is needed of the probability for occupational injury or ill-health.  Put another way, it wants a better understanding of the total hazards faced by vulnerable categories of industry employees.

Workers involved in well workovers and surface treatment are examples of groups with a number of risk factors in their working environment, and who could therefore be particularly exposed unless these threats are well managed.

Other offshore or land-based personnel may face heavy lifting, demanding or static postures, noise, fumes, particles, chemicals or vibration – often combined with heavy pressure on time, long-distance commuting or irregular shift patterns.

“The companies being audited have until the summer to explain how they identify exposed personnel in their own business,” says PSA principal engineer Elisabeth Lootz. She is in charge of the exercise.

“We’ll also look more closely at the way operators and contractors perform unifi ed risk assessments, and the basis for adopting various measures. 

“The answers will give us better knowledge of the relationship for each group between risk factors like noise, vibration and chemicals on the one hand and frame conditions such as pressure of time, work organisation, contractual relationships and shift patterns on the other.

“We want the companies to build a unifi ed risk picture which provides a foundation for directing efforts towards those categories where the need and effect are greatest.”

No shortcuts
There are no shortcuts to good risk management, which involves identifying, surveying, assessing and adopting measures. If one element in this management loop drops out, it is no longer possible to see whether action being taken to reduce risk actually works. 

“We’ve had varying experience so far with company follow-up of health and working environment risk,” says Ms Lootz. “The audit showed that surveys have been fairly inadequate and vary in quality.

“We also see that measures intended to reduce the level of risk are either absent or delayed. Communication between operator and contractor is often inadequate, while responsibility for surveys and measures is unclear.”

Long-term harm
The chemical working environment has attracted great attention for a number of years, not least because workers have suffered long-term harm from earlier exposure to substances.  Published in 2007, the PSA’s report on these conditions showed precisely that the offshore industry lacks a unifi ed risk picture of both existing and historical positions.

The authorities have accordingly challenged the industry, both offshore and on land, to carry out extensive risk exposure studies covering all relevant groups, work processes and chemicals.

“We now expect the companies to identify groups exposed to risk across the various employers and regardless of their position in the contract chain,” says Ms Lootz. “We also expect the players to be able to identify working environment factors, both individually and collectively.”

The PSA’s commitment to groups with a particular exposure to risk rests in part on White Paper no 12 (2005-06) concerning HSE. This pointed to the necessity of following up exposed categories of workers in an industry with a complex player picture and a growing focus on health problems and exclusion.

Activity in Norway’s petroleum industry is high.  Aging installations and extensions to production life create a growing need for modifi cations and contract labour.

“Roughly 60-70 per cent of personnel in the industry work for contractors,” says Ms Lootz. “ Observations over time suggest that they are more exposed to risk than operator employees.  “One reason for this could be that challenges exist in identifying and implementing risk-reducing measures for groups which travel from place to place.”

The PSA believes that the cross-industry audit will provide a good picture of a number of groups particularly exposed to risk in the petroleum sector.  An important part of the work will consist of exchanging information, partly in the form of meetings to discuss experience with the participants.

During 2008, the PSA also intends to invite the industry to professional seminars in order to spread knowledge and mobilise an increased commitment to risk-exposed groups of employees.