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Trends in risk level 2011: moving in the right direction

Purposeful efforts to reduce risk on Norway’s continental shelf (NCS) are paying off. Figures from the 2011 study of trends in risk level in the Norwegian petroleum activity (RNNP) show favourable progress in key areas.


* The RNNP study occupies an important place in the industry by contributing to a unified understanding of trends in risk level among companies, employees and government.

* Its results are presented in annual reports, and the latest of these documents is the 11th in the series.

* Moreover, this is the fifth year to include data gathered from the land-based plants.

* The survey was extended in 2010 to cover trends in the risk of acute discharges on the NCS. The 2010 figures on acute discharges will be published this autumn.

Leak rates
Hydrocarbon leaks are categorised for the RNNP report in three groups based on the rate of escape: more than 10 kg/s, 1-10 kg/s and 0.1-1 kg/s.

Even a gas leak with the lowest registered leak rate – 0.1 kg/s – has a substantial accident potential.

These results indicate that developments in the level of risk are moving in the right direction, said Magne Ognedal, director-general of the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA).

“A good year was recorded in 2011, with no major accidents or deaths in Norway’s petroleum industry,” he noted. “Now the 2011 RNNP study also reveals a clear improvement in the risk level in a number of key areas.”

Speaking when the annual RNNP report was presented in Stavanger on 25 April, Mr Ognedal believed the good results were the product of purposeful efforts by the industry.

“It’s particularly gratifying to see that the trend appears to have shifted in a positive direction on important issues such as hydrocarbon leaks and well control incidents.

“These are areas which we have asked the industry to get to grips with, and we’re now seeing an improvement. Working purposefully yields results.”

But Mr Ognedal emphasised that the good results must not encourage people to rest on their laurels.

“Maintaining our present level of risk and achieving further improvements call for continuous commitment and attention. A high level of safety doesn’t just happen.

“It’s too early to say whether the positive trends for hydrocarbon leaks and well control incidents in 2011 will be sustained.

“But it’s natural to conclude that the industry achieves positive results in areas which are given great attention, and that this attention must therefore be maintained in coming years.”

Flattened out
The overall indicator for major accident risk on the NCS as a whole has flattened out since 2007 at a level lower than in the preceding period (1999-2004). Viewed in greater detail, however, it is evident that the indicator for mobile units has shown a decline in recent years.

“The primary goal is continuous improvement,” Mr Ognedal affirmed. “A purposeful commitment is required if the overall indicator is to get even better.”

The RNNP report shows that a higher incidence of damage to risers and pipelines as well as to structures helped to keep the overall indicator unchanged in 2011.

Damage to risers and pipelines within the safety zone was higher in 2011, while two leaks occurred from risers to staffed installations.  This represented the biggest contribution from the production facilities on the NCS to the overall indicator in 2011.

Personal injuries
Serious personal injuries have shown a favourable trend in recent years, reaching 0.6 per million hours worked for the whole NCS in 2011 – significantly below the average for the preceding 10 years.

The personal injury frequency on production installations was at its lowest-ever level in 2011. Even with more hours worked overall, serious injuries fell from 23 in 2010 to 17.

On mobile units, the personal injury frequency increased slightly from 2010 but was nevertheless below the average for the preceding decade. Nine such injuries were recorded in 2011, compared with five the year before.

No fatal accidents occurred on the NCS during 2011.

Helicopters
Helicopter travel represents a large part of the overall risk exposure for offshore workers on the NCS. The indicator reflecting the most serious helicopter incidents showed a slightly negative trend from 2010.

Ships on a collision course
The number of ships on a collision course with an installation continued to develop positively, reaching a level in 2011 which was significantly below the mean value for 2002-10. Twenty-seven collisions between installations and visiting vessels were recorded on the NCS over the past 10 years, a decline from 1998-2001. But serious incidents rose somewhat in 2004-11.

Barriers
The barrier indicator related to major accidents shows that a relatively large number of installations had fairly substantial non-conformities from the expected industry level.

This means that the sector has a clear improvement potential with regard to ensuring that these barriers are sufficiently robust.

Noise
The indicator for noise exposure improved in 2011, and the trend has been positive for a number of job categories over the past couple of years.

A purposeful commitment and good solutions again seem to have yielded positive results. But the indicator shows that the selected categories have a high noise exposure, and that the scope of countermeasures needs to be widened.

Ergonomics
Indicators for ergonomic factors reveal that the level of risk remains high for scaffolders, surface treatment personnel and roughnecks, closely followed by mechanics.

Risk for scaffolders and roughnecks rose from 2010. Among working posture, poor balance, lifting and handheld tools, the first of these factors showed the most negative trend.

Risk level on land
Eight unignited hydrocarbon leaks were reported in 2011 for the land-based plants, along with two small fires, one toxic emission, 27 dropped objects and five accidents with vehicles. The figure for unignited leaks was on a par with the two previous years, and down by more than 50 per cent from the 21 incidents in 2008. No hydrocarbon leaks ignited during 2011.

Where maintenance and its management at the land-based plants was concerned, the degree of labelling and classification of equipment rose.

The backlog of preventive maintenance declined somewhat, but was still high, and the amount of outstanding corrective maintenance was also reduced slightly.

A couple of the plants still have large amounts of corrective maintenance remaining to be done.

Three serious personal injuries were reported from the land-based plants in 2011, compared with nine the year before. The overall serious personal injury frequency for the land-based plants was 0.3 per million hours worked, compared with 0.7 in 2010. Considerable variations exist between these facilities.

Survey
The biennial questionnaire-based survey was conducted in 2011 for the sixth time among offshore workers and the third time with involvement by land-based personnel. This exercise aims to analyse how employees experience HSE conditions in the industry, and how that has developed over time.

Based on the index values, the reported safety climate is similar to previous years with a trend towards getting better. But problem issues and groups still have a potential for improvement. These include access to and understanding of governing documents and the climate for reporting accidents or hazardous conditions.

Clear reporting lines, information on chemical risk and the way HSE work is prioritised in relation to production are other areas with scope for improvement. Negative trends emerged offshore for a number of variables relating to physical working conditions, including exposure to noise and vibration, inadequate lighting and ergonomics.

While these conditions presented an improvement from 2007 to 2009, they are now back at the 2007 level.

Responses from offshore and land-based workers have several features in common, although the two groups do not assess all conditions equally by giving them the same score. However, much the same factors stand out both in terms of enhancements to the safety climate and areas with the biggest improvement potential.

Despite an improvement from 2009, language problems are considered more threatening to safety by workers on land than by those offshore. However, responses on this issue are now more negative among offshore employees than they were in earlier findings from the survey.

RNNP in brief
The RNNP process was initiated in 1999-2000 to develop and apply a tool for measuring trends in risk level in the Norwegian petroleum activity.

This work has acquired an important position in Norway’s oil and gas industry because it contributes to a shared understanding of risk developments by everyone involved.

It was extended to the land-based plants in 2006.

The RNNP process monitors risk trends with the aid of various methods, such as incident indicators, barrier data, interviews with key informants, working seminars and field work. A major questionnaire-based survey is also conducted every two years.

Results from these studies are presented in annual reports, which also provide the basis for taking action to combat a negative trend.