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Increasing risk of a major accident on the Norwegian shelf

The risk of a major accident occurring on the Norwegian shelf is rising. The development in the number of undesirable incidents linked to gas leaks, kicks and damage to load-bearing structures provides the major cause for concern. These are some of the conclusions of the report entitled "Development in risk level on the Norwegian shelf, Phase 3 - 2002".

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate initiated the "Development in risk level on the Norwegian shelf" project in 1999/2000, and the results are presented in annual reports.

The objective of the project is to develop and apply measuring tools that illustrate the development in the risk level on the Norwegian shelf.

The methods used in the project are based in part on incident-related indicators and socio-scientific analyses.

The purpose of the risk level project is to:

  • contribute to identification of areas that are critical for working environment and safety
  • ensure focus on the industry's follow-up of trends and analysesskape positive ringvirkninger i næringen

The project records, analyzes and evaluates defined hazard and accident situations ("DFUs"). In this year's report, risk indicators have been defined that cover all relevant helicopter transportation of personnel. This report was prepared in close cooperation with the Civil Aviation Authority and the helicopter operators on the Norwegian shelf.

Phase 3 has also included a more extensive collection of data on incidents linked to falling objects, as well as an analysis of the effect of barriers in preventing major accidents. Seminars for personnel including line managers and safety delegates have also been implemented in Phase 3.

Gas leaks cause concern
There are few indicators that exhibit a clear, positive reduction, while there are several important contributors to the risk of a major accident that are clearly rising. The three types of incidents that accounted for the largest contributions to the overall indicator for loss of life associated with major accidents are hydrocarbon leaks, kicks and structural failure.

A total of 228 significant hydrocarbon leaks occurred from permanent and mobile installations on the Norwegian shelf during the period 1996-2002. None of the gas leaks has ignited. Nevertheless, the number of gas leaks is cause for concern because the potential of a serious accident occurring if the gas ignites is so great.

Therefore, the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate will soon call in the management of all of the operating companies on the Norwegian shelf, requesting that they establish binding targets for reduction as well as a plan for achieving these goals. The NPD has also already decided that all major gas leaks must be investigated by the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate.

Bright spots
The number of collisions with field-related traffic (service and supply vessels) increased considerably up to the year 2000. There has been a significant reduction in the years 2001 and 2002, particularly as regards mobile units. Evaluation of the data collected indicates that Statoil's project "improved vessel safety" plays an important role in this development.

This year's report covers all transport of personnel by helicopter related to the petroleum activities. Helicopter-related risk has been examined for the period 1999 - 2002. A decline in the number of incidents can be observed, although it is not statistically significant. Relatively speaking, there are fewer incidents in the most serious category, which could indicate a positive development.

Fewer personal injuries - two fatalities
Fifty serious personal injuries were recorded on the Norwegian shelf in 2002, which represents a small decline compared with 2001 (60). The frequency of serious personal injuries on the installations is at the same level as the average for the past ten years. The number of drilling and well-related injuries has shown a marked decrease, and the rate is now about the same as for injuries related to operations/maintenance/structures.

We must emphasize, however, that the positive trend for personal injuries in recent years is not reflected in the number of people who died in work-related accidents in 2002, which is the highest since 1993. The fatal accidents on Byford Dolphin on 17 April and on the Gyda platform on 1 November are grim reminders that small margins determine the outcome of undesirable incidents.

Falling objects
Extensive collection of data concerning falling objects has been carried out in Phase 3. A total of 267 minor and major incidents in 2002 have been reported and evaluated. The analysis shows that violations or impairment of more than one barrier were reported in 80 percent of the incidents.

Both of the fatal accidents in 2002 were directly or indirectly caused by falling objects. This underlines the need for the industry to prioritize measures to reduce the frequency of accidents and near-misses linked to falling objects.

The NPD places a great deal of emphasis on this area in its supervision. The collaborative project "Working together for safety" has also set up a dedicated working group on falling objects.

Confidence is good, but fragile
As part of the risk level project, the NPD organized two seminars for offshore safety delegates and line managers in 2002. The purpose was to identify the background for the response to the questionnaire survey conducted in 2001. Many examples of situations and circumstances emerged during the seminars that may form the basis for the various answers in the questionnaire survey.

In-depth interviews with selected key personnel have also been conducted in Phase 3. The main impression from the interviews is that the risk level is considered to be at the same level as in 2001. Obvious disappointment was expressed in relation to the development regarding cranes and lifting, and over the fact that the work done over the past year has not yielded more concrete results.

Concern was also expressed in relation to the loss of expertise resulting from several rigs now being laid up. Everyone who was interviewed believes that a good HES culture is important. There are, however, different opinions as to what constitutes a good HES culture, and what measures are needed to create such a culture.

The confidence and cooperation among the employers, employees and the authorities is characterized as being good, but the parties point out that this cooperation can easily fade. Several express concern that the general 'slump' the industry is experiencing could bring a halt to many of the positive HES measures that the sector is working on.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate emphasizes that cooperation forums such as the Safety Forum and Working Together for Safety are important arenas to ensure that the trust between the parties is maintained and strengthened.

"Great challenges are in store for us"
"This report confirms a trend we have observed, specifically that the risk of major accidents is rising. This is disturbing. On the other hand, the changes are not dramatic, but the report shows that we have great challenges in store also on the Norwegian shelf when it comes to improving safety," says the NPD's Director General Gunnar Berge.

He emphasizes the unique aspect that, through the risk level project, the NPD does not merely record incidents and near-misses, but also attempts to find indicators that can provide early identification of the risk of major accidents for an entire industrial sector.

"The risk level project also gives us the opportunity to measure developments over time, and it can help us prevent major accidents because it allows both the NPD and the industry to direct resources to the areas where they will be most effective. This makes the risk level project unique not only in the petroleum sector, but in general terms both in Norway and internationally," says Berge.

Both the summary report and the main report have been published on the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate's web site.

Contacts in the NPD
Eldbjørg Vaage Melberg
Senior Information Adviser
Telephone: +47 957 00 320

Øyvind Tuntland
Assistant Director
Telephone: +47 51 87 62 07