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Learning from incidents in focus at the Safety Forum annual conference

“Norway has ambitions of being a world leader on safety and working environment in the petroleum industry, but we must acknowledge that the activities we perform are associated with considerable risk. We can never say we’re so good that we don’t need to evolve,” said Director Magne Ognedal of the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) at the Safety Forum’s annual conference in Stavanger.

The title of this year’s conference was Always prepared? From Kielland to Deepwater. Framed by the themes of major accident risk and learning from incidents, the conference used the Kielland tragedy of 1980 as a point of departure; how has it influenced the work on safety and working environment in the petroleum activities, what have we learned from history and how do we keep accidents from happening again?

Several recent incidents, with the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico as the most severe, have made the question of learning from incidents very timely.

“Eleven people perished on the Deepwater Horizon and many were injured. The scope of environmental consequences is currently not known. This is also true as regards the loss of economic values, reputation and potential political consequences. In summary, this could affect the future of the industry,” said PSA Director Magne Ognedal at the Safety Forum annual conference on Thursday.

The cause of the fire, explosion and subsequent oil blow-out are still not known. Ognedal says that the PSA has established a dedicated project group that is closely following the Deepwater incident.

“It is important that we now evaluate the information as it surfaces, assess whether it is relevant to Norwegian conditions, and implement any improvement items,” says Ognedal.

Several speakers, including former Statoil CEO Harald Norvik, emphasised how important it is for the industry to use the experience gained from Deepwater Horizon to strengthen safety.

“Good safety is basic and fundamental for the entire industry. All the players now have to take a step back and determine what went wrong,” said Norvik.

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An important part of the background for the conference was acknowledging that this is the 30-year anniversary of the major accident on the Norwegian shelf on 27 March 1980, when the floating living quarters facility Alexander L. Kielland capsized and 123 people lost their lives.

Several of those who experienced the incident first-hand participated in the conference, including former NRK reporter Einar Knudsen, manager of the Kielland fund, Odd Kristian Reme, and current Norwegian Oil Industry Association (OLF) Director general Gro Brækken.

It was, however still the eye-witness accounts of the two former captains Christian Næss and Didrik Stonghaugen that really moved the audience.

Næss and Stonghaugen were both employed by the Solstad shipping company and on the night of the accident each found themselves on the bridge of their respective stand-by vessels – the “Normand Skipper” and the “Normand Engineer” – on the Ekofisk field.

When the Kielland capsized, they were among the first on the scene and started rescuing people from the ice-cold water. At the Safety Forum’s annual conference, they gave stirring accounts of the first dramatic hours after the capsize.

A total of 89 people were rescued.

Fully booked
PSA Director Magne Ognedal was among those who experienced the Kielland accident up close, at that time as Safety Director at the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate. The incident left a permanent impression on Ognedal’s work.

“The Kielland accident has been crucial to my work and involvement in safety in this industry. The accident brought about important changes, among other things it led to more risk-based supervisory activities, clearer roles and a more distinct distribution of responsibilities,” says Ognedal.

The Safety Forum’s annual conference – the eighth consecutive – was fully booked this year, with a long waiting list for participation. The considerable interest confirms the conference’s importance to those concerned with health, safety and environment in the petroleum industry.

Presentations and more information on the conference can be found on the right.

Contact information
Angela Ebbesen, Technical secretary of the Safety Forum
E-mail angela.ebbesen@ptil.no