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Safety Forum annual conference – The future starts now

The Deepwater Horizon catastrophe during April of last year has also been a wake-up call for the Norwegian petroleum activities. ”We must acknowledge that we have challenges and a potential to improve safety in the future – and the future starts now.” This is what Magne Ognedal, director-general of the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA), said at the annual Safety Forum conference.

The ninth consecutive Safety Forum annual conference was held on 8 June at Hall Toll in Stavanger, with more than 220 participants.
This year’s conference was titled ”Challenges of the future”, and discussed key topics such as learning from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe, the status of the tripartite cooperation and challenges associated with increased petroleum activity in the northern areas.

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Safety cooperation
”Our assessment following the investigations made following catastrophes such as the one in the Gulf of Mexico, along with our own investigations and experiences, is that we have quite a few challenges and opportunities to improve safety here in Norway as well,” said Magne Ognedal, director-general of the PSA and head of the Safety Forum, during his presentation.

Good management of major accident risk is an important keyword. This implies that the activity entails a risk that can be managed.

”Management of barriers to prevent unforeseen incidents from escalating is crucial. The same applies to management’s role as regards managing major accident risk - and by that I mean the entire management hierarchy at all levels – and both the operator and contractor/sub-supplier chain,” Ognedal stressed.

He added that good maintenance management of older facilities which are used beyond the lifetime for which they were originally designed, are also important elements that influence major accident risk.

Ognedal also pointed out special circumstances that provide a good basis for improving the safety level in Norway:

”The cooperation between the parties and the tripartite cooperation is unique in Norway. I have great faith in a further development – with the goal being continuous improvement of the activities,” Ognedal said, and challenged the industry in Norway to place increased emphasis on this area.

”We see a need for a further development and revitalisation. This requires increased involvement and commitment from everyone involved,” Ognedal said and added that standardisation work is a very central area where the companies can demonstrate their collective responsibility for a high safety level. The same applies to the cooperation formed to establish the best practice.

”Is there open and constructive cooperation in the industry to ensure continuous improvement? Does everyone participate in the standardisation work?” Ognedal asked.

He also pointed out the many initiatives and reactions that have arisen in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe: the EU, OSPAR and G20 countries have all become involved in safety related to petroleum activities. It is too early to say what will come from these initiatives, but they illustrate how far up this topic has been moved on the political agenda. Established international authority forums in which the PSA participates actively, particularly IRF and NSOAF, will also be challenged to have a much closer cooperation than before, Ognedal postulated.

Learning from the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe
During the section concerning the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe’s significance for Norwegian petroleum activities, the director for professional competence in the PSA, Øyvind Tuntland and the project leader of the PSA’s work, Hilde-Karin Østnes, provided the status and initial conclusions from the supervisory authority’s work.

The main message is that the DwH accident raises questions that affect an entire industry, national authorities and international processes and that are relevant as regards preventing major accidents in general. It must also lead to improvements in the Norwegian petroleum activities.

The accident has demonstrated the need to consider a number of measures that could contribute to better management of major accident risk as regards more robust solutions.

Safety in the wake of the Deepwater Horizon catastrophe was also highlighted through a presentation by Kjell Pedersen, director of Petoro and Olav Skotheim, head of the OLF project to follow up this catastrophe.

Status of the 10-year-old
The Safety Forum was established ten years ago and has become key for setting terms for HSE debates and central initiatives and projects in the industry. The ten-year anniversary formed the basis for a discussion relating to status and future perspectives of the tripartite cooperation.

The contributors – all members of Safety Forum – agreed that this has developed into the key arena for discussing the big picture and main challenges related to safety in the Norwegian petroleum activities.

The fact that the parties sit down together and discuss the big picture is useful in and of itself. In addition, it is a success factor that the Safety Forum also contributes to positive result development.

Even though the positive development in some important areas seems to have stopped – for example, gas leaks and well control incidents – the list of good projects that have originated in the Safety Forum is long. New initiatives with the goal of reducing the number of gas leaks and well control incidents in the next years have also originated from the Safety Forum. This can only be interpreted such that the Forum still maintains the central position which was intended when it was established.

Central authorities also believe that the Safety Forum plays an important part as regards safety in the Norwegian petroleum activities.

In his introductory speech, state secretary Jan-Erik Støstad in the Ministry of Labour pointed out that the unique tripartite cooperation is an important reason why the petroleum activities in Norway are included in the upcoming Storting report relating to working environment in Norway.

”We are certain that the land-based activities could learn from our experience with tripartite cooperation in the petroleum activities. This is an important reason why we did not want a separate Storting report relating to health, safety and the environment in the petroleum activities, but to rather look at the overall working environment in Norway.

”Having said that, I can assure you that the petroleum sector will have an important place in this report as well,” Støstad emphasised, and also added that the report will be submitted to the Storting during the autumn.