Both the industry as a whole and the PSA as a regulator found 2015 a demanding year. Issues of principle, extensive activities, major events, many investigation and a very serious accident made their mark. Some key episodes from the PSA’s perspective are presented here.
What were the most important incidents in 2015?
The PSA instituted 10 investigations into serious incidents during 2015 – a fairly large number compared with earlier years. Such inquiries are an important part of its activities, explains Sigve Knudsen, one of the authority’s two directors of supervision.
What prompts an investigation?
Several considerations can persuade us to launch a formal investigation. The seriousness of the incident is the most important, but other factors can also be decisive.
Learning lessons and transferring experience to the industry are the main motives for us as a regulator when conducting an inquiry.
Formal investigations are a good instrument for identifying the causes of serious accidents and focusing attention on causal mechanisms – human, technological and/or organisational.
What do we investigate?
Incidents which typically qualify for
formal investigation by the PSA include:
Major accidents or near misses
Deaths resulting from a work accident
Serious personal injury with a potential for deaths
Serious weakening or loss of safety functions and barriers, which threatens the facility’s integrity.
The number of incidents investigated annually varies, and has lain around four-five in recent years. But this figure doubled in 2015. What does that say about the level of safety?
This increase can appear dramatic at first sight, but no clear connection necessarily exists between the number of investigations and developments in the level of safety.
A review shows no overall increase in the number of either serious or less serious incidents reported in 2015 compared with recent years.
At the same time, it’s clear that the incidents we investigated last year involved serious consequences, both actual and potential. And one also concerned a tragic fatality.
Six investigations were initiated during the first three months because of a concentration of incidents in that period. The number we chose to investigate attracted attention from several quarters.
One of the important questions we asked ourselves was whether the large number of formal inquiries could be linked to cost cuts and efficiency measures in the industry.
And did you find any such connections?
Overall and collectively, the 10 investigations concern factors related to management, training, demanding technical design, maintenance, follow-up of suppliers, compliance with procedures and emergency preparedness.
These incidents had nothing in common, and none of their causes were markedly different to the findings we’ve made in earlier years.
In other words, we haven’t discovered anything which suggests a link with efficiency measures, cost or time pressures, or downsizing. But we remain on the alert in this area.
We want to ensure that company efficiency programmes are good for safety and the working environment. Continuous improvement remains a requirement, even in difficult times.
Fatal accident on COSL Innovator
The living quarters on COSL Innovator were struck by a big wave on the afternoon of 30 December 2015, smashing windows and damaging a number of cabins. One person was killed and two injured.
There were 106 people on board at the time, with 44 evacuated soon afterwards by winching into helicopters. The rest remained on board while the drilling rig moved to land under its own power.
COSL Innovator was working under charter for Statoil on the Troll field west of Bergen when the accident happened. It had been disconnected from the well because of bad weather.
This incident ranks as the first fatal accident on the NCS since 2009. The PSA is investigating, and its findings will be published at www.ptil.no.
Investigations in 2015
Fatal accident on COSL Innovator – 30 December
Dropped objects at Nyhamna – several incidents during 2015
Oil spill on Statfjord – 8 October
Grating struck person on Heidrun – 22 September
Fire on Petrojarl Knarr – 24 March
Dropped object on West Venture – 23 March
Crushing injuries on Transocean Barents – 4 March
Man overboard from Scarabeo 8 – 20 February
Gas leak on Gudrun – 18 February
Lifeboat incident on Maersk Giant – 14 January
Reports from the investigations which have been completed can be found in Norwegian and English at ptil.no/.
Lifeboat commitment continues
A great deal has been done to strengthen knowledge about lifeboats on the NCS since serious deficiencies were identified in these craft during 2005.
Their condition has also improved, but important work remains to be done. The PSA will continue to monitor the status of lifeboats through more frequent and strengthened supervisory activities.
A new industry standard for design and construction of freefall lifeboats came into force for all fixed facilities on the NCS in 2010.
Existing systems have also been substantially upgraded, but parts of the industry still need to follow up with necessary reviews of and possible improvements to their lifeboats.
“Since these craft represent a final barrier, we must be able to rely of them functioning,” says PSA director general Anne Myhrvold.
“Their job is to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to escape from a facility in the event of an emergency.”
The PSA has followed up the lifeboat issue through a number of processes and activities since the problems were uncovered, including work in recent years on proposed regulatory changes.
In December 2015, the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (ASD) found that introducing new detailed regulations in this area would not be appropriate.
The PSA has instead been asked to monitor the status of lifeboats on the basis of applicable regulations. The ASD’s letter stated in part:
“A general requirement in the HSE regulations specifies that it must be possible to evacuate everyone on a petroleum facility to a safe place, at all times and under all conditions. Existing legal enactments therefore provide a clear duty for operators and vessel owners on the NCS to ensure that all lifeboats (and other means of evacuation) used are in an acceptable condition. The ministry also takes the view that the PSA already has a clear legal basis for supervising the standard of lifeboats on the NCS.”
“The ASD supports our view that improvements are needed in a number of areas, and that close supervision of parts of the industry is therefore required,” observes Myhrvold.
“It wants purposeful upgrades to lifeboat standards where required. The expectation is that the regulator, the industry and the unions will collaborate actively to reach this goal.”
Arctic Safety Summit
Collaboration, a long-term approach and priorities were key terms when the PSA brought the petroleum sector together last autumn for a three-day conference at Tromsø in northern Norway.
Illuminating the challenges of oil and gas operations in the far north of the NCS provided the common denominator for the Arctic Safety Summit’s well-filled programme.
Its ambition was to view the major resource potential of the Barents Sea in relation to the safety challenges faced in these waters.
Top executives, technical specialists and scientists attended the meeting, which reflected the PSA’s long-standing main priority of safe petroleum operations in the far north.
This commitment is continuing in 2016 with a number of different activities, from specific follow-up of the industry to knowledge acquisition and international exchange of experience.
The PSA's view: The companies must take proper account of safety and the working environment when implementing their efficiency improvement programmes. The requirement for continuous improvement remains in force despite the difficult times.
Drowning in documents?
The challenges posed for the petroleum sector by excessive documentation which may threaten safety are now being investigated by the PSA, with recommendations for action due in 2016.
“We’ve noted a marked rise in the volume of documents and procedures on the NCS over time,” says Bjørn Thomas Bache, who heads this project.
“Identified by our supervisory activities and surveys conducted by some companies, this trend suggests that the quantities of material involved could present a safety risk.”
Important information required for safe, prudent and efficient operation of the facilities could down in over-extensive and unnecessary documentation, he points out.
“At the same time, our audits have also revealed a failure to keep safety-critical documents updated. We take a serious view of that.”
“To keep the workload down, we’ve chosen to concentrate on document flows and volumes at the axis between equipment supplier, main contractor and operator,” Bache explains.
“As an example, we’re using a typical new construction project or a major modification programme which requires an extension to producing life.”
Since work began last summer, the PSA has held a series of meetings with selected companies. It also staged a workshop on the documentation burden in the industry at its offices in the autumn.
Some of the improvement initiatives under way in the sector were presented at this one-day session, and Bache reports that the project has attracted great interest.
“We’ve received a number of approaches and have given many presentations on our work and its objective. That’s very positive.”
The project will result in a report due to be published in the second quarter of 2016, when it will be posted to www.ptil.no.
The following uncomplicated provision on documentation are contained in section 23 of the framework regulations on general requirements for material and information:
“The responsible party shall prepare and retain material and information necessary to ensure and document that the activities are planned and carried out in a prudent manner. The responsible party shall ensure that documentation demonstrating compliance with requirements stipulated in or pursuant to these regulations, can be provided. The responsible party shall establish criteria for what constitutes necessary documentation. The extent of the documentation shall be adapted to the nature of the enterprise and the activities carried out.”