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Minutes from Safety Forum meeting No 5/2010

Mutual information on activities following the Deepwater Horizon disaster, initiatives to reduce noise injury risk in the industry and results from the RNNP work directed towards acute discharges were the main topics in the Safety Forum meeting in Stavanger on 18 November.

In addition, a number of important issues were raised for briefing and debate, such as absence due to illness in the industry in Norway, serious incidents in recent months (see minutes for details) and status and updates for a number of ongoing issues which are reviewed in each meeting.

Oil disasters – international attention
PSA Director General and head of Safety Forum, Magne Ognedal, gave an account of the International Regulatory Forum's (IRF) conference in Vancouver, Canada from 18 to 20 October 2010. The conference was titled “Offshore Safety: Where Do We Go From Here?” with the subtitle "In the wake of Montara and Macondo, offshore regulatory regimes are being scrutinized. What have we learned? What can we do better? Read the summary on IRF's website http://www.irfoffshoresafety.com/.

Following the conference, IRF held a meeting for the member countries where they discussed IRF's follow-up of the disaster. Topics such as safety culture, BOP as a barrier in a 2010 perspective, performance indicators, expertise/capacity and standards for best practice – are areas that must be followed up and where responsibility has been divided between the member countries. The PSA has proposed holding a follow-up conference in one year, in Norway in September/October 2011.

The US Congress has asked the US Chemical Safety Board, which also investigated the Texas City disaster, to investigate the Macondo accident. The PSA follows the development in the US through a comprehensive network on a professional, regulatory and personal level.

The oil industry taking measures following Deepwater Horizon
The industry in Norway early on became aware that the accident impacted the industry as a whole and OLF initiated a project where US/Norwegian regulations were evaluated by external consultants and a project team was established under the auspices of OLF.

Relevant information forming a basis for implementation of development and measures is being gathered in cooperation with a project under the auspices of Statoil. This is all coordinated with the many international initiatives.

The project's basis is the 25 recommendations from BP’s report from 8 September 2010, which have been converted into questions and sent to a selected number of companies in the industry with reference to BP’s improvement proposals. The industry is awaiting the reports from the presidential commission, the Coast Guard/BOEMRE and the US Chemical Safety Board. Many and different initiatives make the overall picture more complex.

Safety Forum discussed a number of issues in the wake of these processes, including working environment challenges related to exposure of involved personnel, IO issues, HSE culture and different interpretations of the term. In conclusion, the authorities and industry were encouraged to ensure employee participation in these processes.

Noise never silent
Noise injury risk has been a key topic in Safety Forum ever since we received the RNNP results last spring. Noise is a prioritised focus area for the PSA, which has a good and solid foundation for discussing the noise injury risk in the industry.

The knowledge basis has been established through comprehensive audits directed at noise injury risk, groups exposed to risk, knowledge through the RNNP work and through reported hearing injuries. The RNNP indicators for noise exposure on the offshore facilities show stable levels from 2004 until the present. The PSA is therefore asking whether the companies are actively using the indicator in their work. Recent audits show a clear trend of nonconformities from the regulations in all audits, while two audits resulted in orders.

As regards noise and vibrations from handheld tools, the PSA requests technology that entails prudent exposure –   or whether there is actually resistance in the industry to applying new technology that reduces noise and vibrations. The Safety Forum member organisations were asked to raise these issues to transform knowledge into action.

From acknowledgement to action
Both the supplier industry and the oil companies have raised the noise challenge in the industry and initiated various processes. The Federation of Norwegian Industries has held a comprehensive review in its own HSE committee to discuss measures on the principals' plant/installation and internally in its own activities.

Various improvement measures have been initiated locally and routines to reveal noise and follow-up have been established, but a number of improvement areas have also been identified, such as better measurements, noise advice on the disciplinary group level, own activities directed towards the operators, learning through campaigns and using noise and vibration as evaluation criteria in purchasing.

There are a number of processes under the auspices of OLF and in the industry as a whole to reduce the noise problem, such as standardisation work, professional discussions and new knowledge, noise relating to helicopters has been thoroughly addressed – and manned subsea operations are now coming up and new technology is being evaluated/qualified in several areas.

A major effort under the auspices of Statoil directed towards continuous follow-up, long-term measures, immediate measures – which are based on basic assumptions relating to noise measurement/measuring expertise, establishment of noise groups and overview of hearing injuries. OLF's representative emphasised that although much good work is being done in the industry, much more could be done.

In the following debate, questions were raised as regards effort and will: If only one company is initiating new systems – how long do we have to wait before the rest of the industry catches up? The most important thing is to keep the big cost picture in mind when evaluating how to prevent long-term hearing injuries and carry out work operations that require an unnecessary amount of rest to compensate for lacking protection of hearing in the working environment.

Ognedal summarised by asking the parties of the Safety Forum whether they will establish a project where the three parties can work together to find good technical measures to reduce noise at the source? The industries and the parties in the petroleum industry accepted the challenge and will contribute to progress through agreed-upon efforts. The result of a such a first step will be reported back to Safety Forum

Risk – acute discharges
On the same day that the Safety Forum was briefed on the main trends in the new RNNP report relating to development in the risk of acute discharges on the Norwegian shelf, the general public was informed through the PSA's website with the following summary: Both the number of acute crude oil discharges from the petroleum activities and the number of near misses which could have resulted in acute discharges on the Norwegian shelf have fallen significantly since 2001.

However, the increase in the number of hydrocarbon leaks and well control incidents in 2009 gives cause for concern. This was revealed in the report ”RNNP - Acute discharges 2001-2009”. Visit our website to see the details from this important work: http://www.ptil.no/nyheter/ny-rnnp-rapport-utvikling-i-risiko-for-akutte-utslipp-paa-norsk-sokkel-article7405-24.html.

The Macondo and Montara blowouts have caused methodical adjustments in RNNP acute discharges. The investigation reports from these disasters may also contain conclusions that can teach us something about monitoring work in the risk area –   and help us see new opportunities to exploit the results from RNNP acute discharges both nationally –  in the management plan work –  and internationally.

From absence due to illness to job presence
The Federation of Norwegian Industries (onshore facilities) referred to the organisation's absence due to illness statistics, which cover 50 000 employees. It turns out that these companies, overall, have less absence due to illness than Norway as a whole. With some companies reaching absence rates of 2.5 per cent, the industry has not been "healthier" since measurements started. For all companies included in the statistics, the average absence due to illness in the Federation of Norwegian Industries was 4.4% for the third quarter of 2010.

During the debate, reference was made to specific measures in individual companies that have contributed to reducing absence due to illness. The effort has been directed towards line managers to support struggling employees through conversations and follow-up - and facilitating the work situation for employees. Line managers are offered courses in connection with mental health and work under the auspices of the occupational health service, supported by NAV, the Norwegian Labour and Welfare Administration. It was pointed out that taking a long-term view was a precondition for success. Cooperation and contributions from the main safety delegate contributed to the individual him/herself giving input as regards facilitation in the workplace. The management's role in all improvement work was emphasised by several at the meeting.