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SAFETY FORUM IN BRUSSELS – DIALOGUE WITH THE EU COMMISSION

Summary of meetings with key players in the EU Commission and the Norwegian delegation for the EU on 20 September was one of the topics at the Safety Forum’s meeting in Brussels on 21 September.


In addition, mutual information and updates were provided as regards on-going issues, and the Safety Forum’s role in relation to the divers’ health and employment conditions and the Rig Committee’s report was clarified.

For quite some time, the Safety Forum and member organisations have had a considerable commitment as regards sharing knowledge and experiences directed at measures to prevent major accidents in the oil and gas industry. Over a period of several years, the Safety Forum has therefore followed national and international processes in the aftermath of major accidents in the industry.

Major accidents on the EU’s agenda
The purpose of meeting representatives from the Directorate-General for Energy (DG Energy) in the European Commission and the Norwegian EU delegation was primarily to exchange information and viewpoints on issues related to safety in the oil and gas industry.


Magne Ognedal with  Jan Panek and  Eero Ailio, DG Energy. Photo: Halvor Erikstein 

In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe and other major accidents, the EU has started a process to establish joint safety rules for offshore activities in Europe. The Safety Forum members wanted to acquire a deeper understanding of this process. Moreover, there was a desire to acquire knowledge on the newly established regulatory agency European Union Offshore Oil and Gas Authorities Group, which, among other things, will serve as a forum for exchanging experience and knowledge between the participating countries’ authorities and the commission.

Both meetings were summarised as interesting, constructive and very useful – not least in light of the fact that senior officials in DG Energy, as well as the energy council and labour and social council in the Norwegian EU delegation, met with the Safety Forum for mutual information and debate.

The Safety Forum follows a number of processes and projects in the industry and several key items are on the agenda for a mutual status update, see overview of on-going issues.

One of these follow-up issues is the debate on employee involvement in licences after receiving input from the employees and recent pilot projects in the industry. The topic has been on the Safety Forum’s agenda for several years, and has been followed up in reports to the Storting. Norwegian Oil and Gas, on behalf of its members, expressed that they do not see the need for a new pilot project. They believe we have good and established cooperation schemes between employers and employees.

Employee representatives stated that they want such a scheme to be implemented, preferably regulated by law. The PSA cannot order the parties to establish such as scheme and the conclusion was that the agency will report the status back to the Ministry of Labour.


Glimpse from Brussels. Photo: Halvor Erikstein

Groups for special attention and follow-up
In the aftermath of employee concerns, as well as special attention and follow-up by the supervisory authority, the Safety Forum would note that the special challenges faced by employee groups exposed to risk have occupied an important place on the Safety Forum’s agenda.

In the last year, employee organisations have addressed the divers’ special challenges in connection with health and employment conditions with the Ministry of Labour. The head of the Safety Forum therefore wanted the Forum’s assessment of whether problems related to the divers’ health and employment conditions should be a topic for further follow-up in the arena. The topic of diving in petroleum activities was subject to a special process in the Safety Forum some years ago; see e.g. Storting White Paper No. 12 (2005-2006), 7 Diving and the PSA’s website and article on divers’ health.

In the Safety Forum’s discussion of the matter, it was noted that, while employment conditions do not have a place in the arenas, such problems clearly interface with safety conditions.

Others emphasised that the divers, as a group, work under very random framework conditions, and that the PSA exerts influence through its role as a supervisory authority for manned diving operations. Furthermore, reference was made to the scheme involving long-term follow-up of the divers’ health, which will be addressed in a separate meeting on 23 October organised by Norwegian Oil and Gas. Additional parties wanted to be involved here. STAMI’s assessment of an international system for health-related follow-up of divers in the petroleum activities, was also mentioned.

In light of the health topic primarily being a matter for the health authorities, it was concluded that the PSA will address the matter with the Norwegian Board of Health Supervision, and that the result of such an inquiry will be reported to both the Safety Forum and the Ministry of Labour.

Rig Committee’s recommendation
The report from the rig committee was on the agenda. There were several critical comments regarding this, but the oil company representatives also encouraged the Safety Forum’s members to look at the big picture, and not view elements as attacks on established schemes.

Despite considerable differences of opinion among the members, it was agreed that one should attempt to identify topics/areas in which the Safety Forum, as the tripartite arena for HSE in the industry, believes work should be continued. It was noted thatcompetence and capacity is one of the Safety Forum’s ultimate priorities (See Item 4).

Following a brief debate, it was emphasised that, while the three parties in the Safety Forum may have different opinions on the report’s description of the problem and its recommendations, there was agreement that the Safety Forum should have the ambition of issuing a unified statement – or formulating a concern related to the competence and capacity topic in particular. It was stated that a consensus is necessary, i.e. everyone must support such a joint statement.

See right column for minutes and details from the meetings.

The next Safety Forum meeting will take place on 15 November.