Managing risk assumes recognition of its existence - and understanding of what the risk consists of.
There is risk related to any activity managed by people, and it is important to be conscious of this risk and deal with it. All efforts to prevent accidents and undesirable incidents from taking place are about managing risk.
Thus, it is impossible to manage risk if we do not know which elements risk consists of, and which incident mechanisms may take place.
Management of major accident risk
Experiences gained in the petroleum activities up to the present have amply demonstrated the risks inherent in the activities. The catastrophe when Alexander L. Kielland capsized in 1980 and the explosion and fire on Piper Alpha on the UK continental shelf in 1988 illustrate the dramatic consequences major accidents in the petroleum activities can have.
In recent years, incidents on the Norwegian shelf and at the land facilities have also had the potential to become major accidents.
According to the HSE regulations, the players must analyse their own activities in detail to map how dangerous situations can occur and develop – and which consequences the various scenarios may have.
Safety and contingency measures must be commensurate with the risk in each individual activity. The higher the risk, the more numerous and wide-ranging measures must be implemented.
Risk which has been identified through the analyses influences both the type of measures, their scope and dimensioning.
Both the design of facilities and plants, the choice of technical solutions with good inherent safety characteristics and the choice of effective barriers are included in the measures to prevent undesirable incidents.
Barriers are used both in order to reduce the probability of undesirable incidents and to eliminate or limit their consequences.
Risk management strategies
An important element in risk management strategies and systems is the establishment of several layers of safety systems and safety measures (barriers) to reduce both the probability of incidents and limit their consequences.
Current risk management systems and risk analysis models can be said to be fragmented in the sense that different risks are not subjected to an overall assessment.
There is therefore a need for more integrated management models, in order to identify potential conflicts and synergies between various measures.
The methods which have been developed to describe, measure and communicate risk have provided important decision support, particularly in the design phase. In light of the frequent change processes, it is important that the risk analyses are further developed for the operational phase as well.
Errors can be prevented to some degree, but cannot be eliminated. A natural consequence of this is that safety critical systems must have the ability to discover and handle such errors.
The HSE Petroleum research program, which is part of the Petromaks program under the auspices of the Research Council of Norway, has in recent years focussed on barriers and robust work practices.
Through this, an improved understanding of the human contribution to risk and risk reduction has been gained. This is an important contribution to reduce the risk of major accidents.