The PSA is concerned. It sees that safety trends have taken a wrong turn in a number of areas. Words must now become deeds. This trend is to be reversed – and time is short.
Change of pace urgently needed
The message being sent to the industry by PSA director general Anne Myhrvold at the start of 2017 is brief and to the point. She launched the authority’s ambitious goal for the year in late 2016 – reversing the trend. This will demand a big commitment by the whole industry.
“The level of HSE in this industry is undoubtedly high,” she observes when explaining the PSA’s choice of a main issue for the coming year. “But we’ve now been through a period which causes us concern.
“We sounded our first warning when presenting the RNNP report for 2015 last spring. Figures and analyses showed negative developments in several important safety areas.
“That gave rise to a concern which strengthened as 2016 progressed. We registered rising pressure in the industry, with big and often rapid change processes launched.”
Myhrvold notes that the PSA witnessed several cases of failure in collaboration between employer and employees, while the industry also experienced serious incidents.
“Cost cuts and downsizing attracted increasing attention in the companies, without safety improvements being identified as a clear ambition,” she observes.
“My attitude is that it’s fully possible to simplify operations while simultaneously improving safety and the working environment. The industry hasn’t been sufficiently clear on this.”
"Is safety at a crossroads? The PSA asked this question throughout 2016, and can see that it has contributed to involvement, reflection and discussion. Now the time has come for action. The trend is going to be reversed."
Last autumn was characterised by several serious near misses. In the space of two October weeks, the PSA launched no less than four investigations where Statoil is the operator.
These were among eight launched by the authority during 2016 into two serious gas leaks, two fires, two serious well control incidents and one serious personal injury. The 2015 figure was even higher, at 10 investigations.
“To sum up, we see that developments over the past two years have been marked by safety challenges and serious conditions,” says Myhrvold. “Cost cuts appear to be a contributory factor. Now it’s time to act. Words must become deeds.”
She reports that work on reversing the trend will concentrate primarily on three basic aspects of Norway’s safety regime – inter-party collaboration, standardisation and robustness.
“Success in turning developments around will demand a big commitment by the whole industry – but first and foremost from company managements,” Myhrvold emphasises.
“They’re in day-to-day charge of managing risk in all their operations, and also have overall responsibility for safety and the working environment in these activities. That applies both in the short term and in a longer perspective.
“Specifically, we expect managements to put safety and the working environment even higher up the agenda and to identify measures and solutions which help to reverse the trend.”
She underlines the importance of managements being clear, unambiguous and easily understandable in their dialogue with employees.
" Some people maintain the PSA must contribute to a positive reputation for the petroleum sector. We’re keen to do that. But the worst that can happen, which would really hit the industry’s good name, is major accidents, serious incidents and ill health among those working in this sector.”
“Every company must work purposefully with necessary change, and their managements will need to apply long-term and robust solutions in running them.
“At the same time, they must contribute to the utilisation and further development of the industry standards and norms which play a key role in our performance-based regulations.
“An important aspect is management’s responsibility for involving employees in these processes and thereby strengthening the decision basis.”
Myhrvold says that the PSA has received clear signals from safety delegates that they want to contribute, and stresses that managements must ensure such participation happens.
“For their part, employees also have a responsibility. They must contribute to developing good solutions from both bipartite [employer-employee] and tripartite [employer-employee-government] perspectives.
“Worker commitment, involvement and influence are important. And we’ll draw actively on the Safety and Regulatory Fora as key tripartite arenas.”
Myhrvold acknowledges that a clear responsibility also rests on the PSA as the regulator in efforts to reverse the trend.
“We’ll follow up in supervising a large, complex industry and enforce the regulations. It’s a demanding job, not least at a time when the sector is under pressure from several quarters and the companies must take a number of considerations into account.
“So how do we work? The regulatory regime in the oil industry is risk-based, which means that we apply an overarching perspective to our work.
“Our activities including supervising the major change processes in the sector, and seeking out negative consequences of cuts and efficiency improvements.”
The PSA will be devoting even greater resources to these aspects in 2017, Myhrvold reports, and points out that its supervision extends very widely.
“It ranges from technical conditions and emergency preparedness to the role of safety delegates, contracts and operational parameters.
“We’re working systematically on whistleblowing, and will also be strengthening our staffing in this area in 2017.
“Investigations are an important part of our supervision, and we want to communicate lessons learnt and experience gained from serious incidents, investigating them and supervisory activities.
“Our funding has moreover been increased, and we’ll be recruiting several new personnel during the coming year.”
The PSA will be applying its toolbox in a purposeful way during 2017 in order to help reverse the trend, Myhrvold affirms.
“We’re fully aware that implementing a major turnaround in just one year is very difficult. However, we expect the companies to achieve visible and measureable results in key safety areas.
“We also expect this commitment to last as long as necessary. We’ll be monitoring these efforts closely, and will be summing up the results next November.
“Reversing the trend is a collective responsibility. And the industry has a clear common interest in succeeding.”
Taking a fresh look
The government has announced a new White Paper on HSE in the petroleum sector, and the Ministry of Labour and social affairs (ASD) has appointed a working group to do the preparatory work.
Drawn from employers, employees and government, its assessments and recommendations are due to be submitted to the ministry by 1 October.