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Serve the nation or amputate a finger?

Staying power is the way to achieve good and better safety, Finn Carlsen, director of professional competence at the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA), told the Safety Forum’s 2014 annual conference.

Photo of Finn Carlsen
Photo of Anne Myhrvold
"Building up the Norwegian model has taken a long time. We must now make sure that the cost pressures don’t tear it down", says Anne Myhrvold, PSA director general.

His message was that the day the industry stopped working for continuous improvement, it would in reality lose its grip on safety efforts.

“To think it, wish it — but do it?” was the rhetorical title for the programme in Stavanger, taken from the comment by playwright Henrik Ibsen’s character Peer Gynt when he sees a boy cut off his finger to avoid military service.

“Ability to deliver” is the formulation used by the oil industry to think aloud about the same issue - in the figurative sense. Several speakers at the conference reflected on the industry’s ability to deal with adversity, economic fluctuations and cost efficiency.

PSA director general Anne Myhrvold emphasised that she has faith in the ability of the companies to deliver.

“The industry has expertise and resources,” she noted. “But if we’re going to succeed with our projects while simultaneously safeguarding safety, it’s important not to lag behind.

“We must protect the Norwegian model and use tripartite collaboration [between companies, unions and government] for all it’s worth. That’s the basis for continuous improvement in health, safety and the environment.”

She noted that Norway’s functional HSE regulations rest on trust and collaboration between the various sides.

“Building up the Norwegian model has taken a long time. We must now make sure that the cost pressures don’t tear it down.

“We at the PSA don’t want to move towards more detail-oriented requirements. Good dialogue will remain central, and strong instruments shouldn’t dominate regulation of the industry.”

World leader
“The ambition that Norway should be a world leader for safety in the petroleum sector remains unchanged,” said Kristian Dahlberg Hauge, state secretary (junior minister) in the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

He referred in part to the public debate on the concept of “world leader”, and minister Robert Eriksson’s response to a question in the Storting (parliament) a few days earlier.

Hauge emphasised that the ambition to be a world leader carried obligations, and that everyone involved must help to find good solutions which protect safety at a time of efficiency improvements and cost pressures.

Bipolar industry?
Halvor Erikstein from the Norwegian Union of Energy Workers (Safe) followed up the Peer Gynt rhetoric by wondering whether the industry is bipolar. “This industry shifts quickly from manic to depressive,” he observed.

A member of the Safety Forum, he noted that capacity, expertise and the fight over the best brains was a key topic in the industry fairly recently, while the public debate now deals primarily with downturns, cost cuts and gloomy forecasts.

“The companies give HSE a lower priority when activity is high because they haven’t the time,” Erikstein noted. “They do the same during a downturn – because they can’t afford it.”