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Minutes from Safety Forum Meeting No 1, 2009

The status of three central projects on anchoring, health consequences of shift work and comprehensive preparedness offshore were the main topics at the Safety Forum's first meeting in 2009, along with employee participation and topics for a new Storting White Paper on HSE.

by Angela Ebbesen

Packed agenda
The agenda for the year's first meeting of the Safety Forum was packed, with several key issues scheduled for consideration. In addition to a review of the minutes and outstanding items, as well as a comprehensive account of serious incidents, a number of key HSE challenges facing the industry were raised for the purpose of mutual information and thorough debate.

Projects related to challenges in losing anchors and position, the health consequences of shift work and an assessment of offshore preparedness were reviewed and discussed. The discussion included employee participation in general, and in the licences in particular, as well as topics for a new Storting White Paper.

There was a summary of experience gained in a major accident seminar for land facilities, where risk management, major accident barriers and status of regulations were key topics. The Safety Forum adopted a proposed mandate and working form for an advisory group in the work on risk levels in the petroleum industry (RNNP). Ownership and involvement are central ambitions for the group which aims to assist the PSA in its RNNP work, and includes eight representatives from employers and employees in the industry.

A recurring topic, the PSA's prioritised follow-up of groups exposed to risk, was also addressed in this meeting through a presentation of the overall status of the PSA's long-standing follow-up of catering in the industry. Mutual information was also provided about the players' international network aimed at improving HSE. Finally, the debate from the previous meeting concerning the Safety Forum's relationship to the media was also continued. The conclusion was to establish a smaller working group which will develop draft guidelines and contents for a press briefing from the Safety Forum sometime this autumn.

One of the main intentions of the Safety Forum is to be a consultation arena for strategic HSE projects and processes. The Norwegian Shipowners' Association's (NR's) group for offshore contractors (GOE) established an anchoring forum with the ambition of reducing the number of serious anchoring incidents by 50% by 2009, and by 75% by 2010 (compared with 2006).

The forum has now been redefined as a project which will continue this objective, but which will work on concrete, prioritized areas such as training and maintenance of anchor winches. Head of the Safety Forum and PSA director Magne Ognedal referred to a letter the PSA had recently sent to the NR regarding this matter – e.g. referring to the 6-7 incidents involving loss of anchor and position in 2008/2009. The Safety Forum will follow this project closely in the time to come.

Shift work and health
With regard to the consequences of shift work, the authorities, employers and employees are all concerned with closing knowledge gaps. A very central part of the work to obtain such knowledge is the STAMI (National Institute of Occupational Health) project on the health consequences of shift work in a long-term perspective. STAMI's head of department for work-related muscular-skeletal ailments (and research manager and professor) Stein Knardahl, http://www.stami.no, pointed out the many factors that affect the connections between shift work and health, such as the duration of work, time of day, type of shift rotation (shift schedule), rest and meals.

Working hours cannot be viewed separately from the work that is done and what a person is exposed to on the job. He reviewed a number of issues that illustrated the complex connections that form the basis for the wide-ranging questionnaire survey that STAMI now wants to conduct. STAMI does not assume that shift work is dangerous, but all of the involved parties need more knowledge about the health consequences of shift work. Knardahl underlined the importance of having a good dialogue with and support from the industry both as concerns implementation of the project and follow-up. See the minutes and presentations for more details.

Reassuring news about preparedness
The Safety Forum has been continuously informed about the work to present a status of the adequacy of emergency preparedness offshore since the project was initiated in 2008. This work has been led by the PSA and carried out by an external consultant who has in part based his conclusions on analyses of the PSA's audit reports and investigations, RNNP results, data and statistics provided by the companies, incident data and interviews.

The conclusion of the report is that emergency preparedness offshore is good. The members of the Safety Forum have supported this work, which they regard as being both important and interesting. It was emphasized in the meeting that the report would be carefully reviewed. For more details and to read the report, visit the PSA's website.

Employee participation – follow-up needed
Employee participation has been a recurring topic in the Safety Forum since the beginning in 2001, when it was also a proposed topic for Storting White Paper No. 7 on HSE in the petroleum activities. It has also been followed up in Storting White Paper No. 12. The parties discussed various aspects of the issue, including employee participation in the licences in a committee, which submitted its report in 2004 (in Norwegian).

As a follow-up measure, a voluntary trial arrangement was set up for employee participation in three major operating licences for a period of two years starting 1 January 2006. The PSA's contact with the operating companies in question has revealed that none of the companies have established procedures to carry out the trial arrangement. This was also confirmed by OLF's representative in the meeting, who acknowledged that the initiative had not been followed up by the industry after the arrangement was established, but that this would now be done. 

Ognedal also pointed out that the report contained several actions wherein the measures, which are owned by the PSA, are safeguarded through the regulatory system and audits. He therefore called for an initiative to follow up a number of recommendations that naturally belong in the industry in dialogue with the employees. This will be a key item on the Safety Forum's agenda in the time to come.

New Storting White Paper on HSE
The process leading up to a new Storting White Paper on HSE in Norwegian working life has started, and prior to the meeting, the members of the Safety Forum had submitted their own suggested topics. These topics were summarized and reviewed in the meeting, and they will also be forwarded to the Ministry along with the PSA's own proposed topics. See the presentation in the link box for proposed topics.

The objections, particularly from the employees' organisations, against a broader white paper on Norwegian working life - rather than a separate white paper for HSE in the petroleum activities – also emerged in this meeting. The AID (Ministry of Labour and Social Inclusion) pointed out that the Ministry has an obligation to the Storting to report on HSE in the petroleum activities, and that the level of ambition has not been changed in relation to this industry.

The AID is also concerned with reporting on HSE conditions in working life on land, as well as looking at the issues as a whole and in an overall perspective. The Ministry will get back to the Safety Forum with a progress plan in the next meeting.

Catering – still reason for concern
Over a period of many years, the PSA has conducted audits targeting catering activities, based in part on recognition of the fact that the group suffers from a great many muscular and skeletal illnesses, and also based on the change and reorganisation processes in the sector.

Audits in 2007 and 2008 have covered 31 companies – operating companies, shipowners and catering companies. Although there has been a positive trend resulting from the initiative "Lift for catering" in 2001-2003 with roots in the Safety Forum, there are still a number of areas where there are deficiencies and substantial potential for improvements. The PSA director emphasized that it is too resource-intensive for the supervisory authority to try to control all quality – and that this must be handled by the companies' own management of their activities.

Contact in the PSA:
Angela Ebbesen, technical secretary in the Safety Forum
E-mail: angela.ebbesen@ptil.no