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"Tripartite" collaboration: Taking a distinctive approach

Collaboration between employers, unions and government is not only enshrined in Norwegian petroleum policy, but also essential for progress on HSE. That puts Norway in a unique position.

Such “tripartite” cooperation has occupied a strong place in the country’s modern working life, along with industrial democracy and employee participation, and is fundamental to the oil sector.

The Safety and Regulatory Forums are key arenas where the three sides meet to exchange information, debate and develop strategies on HSE-related issues.

“Foreigners often regard us as unusual because of this close tripartite collaboration,” acknowledges PSA directorgeneral Magne Ognedal.

“I’ve often had to emphasis that cooperation and participation are not only enshrined in law, but are also basic to all HSE work in Norway. And not least that this is something we believe in.

“Our tripartite model seems to be of interest internationally, including in countries which lack a culture for this type of joint approach.”

Employee participation is a requirement in all phases of the petroleum sector for every issue which relates to safety and the working environment. This aims to ensure that the knowledge and experience of ordinary workers are fully utilised.

Democratic rights such as employee involvement and influence over their own workplace also play a key role in securing proprietary attitudes and responsibility.

“When we talk about ‘all phases’, we mean that employees participate in project development, organisational and technical change processes, operations, conversion, modifications and removal,” says Mr Ognedal.

The regulations also create a general duty for employees to help shape, implement and follow up systematic HSE efforts in the industry.

A responsibility for workers to participate in developing management systems also occupies a key place in the Norwegian petroleum sector.

Such systems say something about the way companies manages activities and processes which demand time, money and other resources.

Safety delegates and members of statutory working environment committees in the companies have a special responsibility in these contexts.

“It’s crucial in such processes that those who contribute know the business in general as well as the area, process or project covered by the management system,” says Mr Ognedal.

Employers, unions and government contribute knowledge and experience to many projects and processes related to White Papers and the development of HSE regulations for the industry.

Topics such as risk levels, major accidents and various perspectives on interaction between humans, technology and organisation (HTO) are dealt with in the Safety Forum.

Chaired by Mr Ognedal, this body includes all the major employer associations and unions for petroleum operators and contractors, both on land and offshore. The party which owns a problem is under an obligation to organise and carry out work related to the issue, while the other sides contribute actively to the process.

“Such processes help to reduce the level of conflict and boost ownership of the results,” observes Mr Ognedal.

“But real involvement is first exercised when lessons learnt from the process are implemented at the individual workplace.

“I also want everyone involved in the collaboration to show mutual respect and understanding of each other’s expertise and roles.

“The government and the Storting (parliament) want Norway’s petroleum sector to be a pioneering industry for HSE and a world leader in this area.

“That depends in part on company managements in every type of player complying with the requirement for industrial democracy. But the authorities naturally have a part to play.

“The PSA will continue to facilitate the greatest possible participation so that we can exploit the unique overall expertise possessed by this sector.”

By Angela Ebbesen