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Securing sufficient margins

Adequate robustness – some leeway – is essential for prudent operation, says Finn Carlsen, the PSA’s director of professional competence. “It’s also a precondition for continuous improvement.”

Over the past year, Carlsen observes, the PSA has registered a large number of serious incidents and weakened HSE results in the petroleum sector.

Robustness is an area of special focus for the 2017 main theme of reversing the trend.

“So we’ll now be emphasising that the industry must ensure sufficiently robust technical facilities, organisations and operations to cope with changed circumstances and near misses.

“We want the players to reverse the negative trend, so that changes aren’t at the expense of HSE – but, on the contrary, help to raise its level.”

Major changes are being made by the industry to cut costs and enhance efficiency. The PSA is concerned that such optimisation increasingly narrows margins for technical facilities, operating systems and organisations. That could in turn reduce robustness.

Carlsen points out that the petroleum industry has invested huge amounts in technical installations and will continue to spend heavily on them.

“It’s very important then to ask whether these facilities are sufficiently robust, and whether the industry is good enough at thinking robustness in future developments offshore and on land?

“Organisational conditions are another aspect of this. The companies must build sufficient robustness into the way they structure their work.

“And, not least, they have to ensure that the operational solutions they develop are adequately robust.”

Work on
But robustness does not just happen, Carlsen points out. This is something the companies must work on from the moment they are awarded a production licence.

“The licensees decide how robust a field development will be as early as the start to planning. So it’s important to address this aspect in the very first phase, while also constantly pursuing robustness in the operating phase.

“Many fields on the NCS are in their late life. We see that robustness is particularly challenging at this stage, and developing good solutions for removing installations and plugging wells will also be important.”

The industry has made substantial changes in recent years, and Carlsen agrees that much of the work on enhancing efficiency and reducing costs has been necessary.

In his view, however, the big question is whether the companies have ensured that the alterations leave sufficient robustness.

“Until now, they’ve retained some leeway. But is this still there after the cuts? Do they have a margin for tackling the unexpected?

“Have they also retained the expertise needed to identify and deal with risk? These issues are currently attracting a lot of our attention.”

The industry has worked intensively over the past couple of years to develop new operating parameters, and many new contracts have been entered into.

“Drawing up contracts is precisely where many of the preconditions for robustness lie, both for technical solutions and for organising work between the parties,” says Carlsen.

“We believe there’s a potential for expressing the robustness aspect more clearly in contract terms. So it’s important to ensure that the people working on these deals know what robustness actually involves.”

The PSA plans to follow up the way the players handle the consequences of change and their work on robustness. This will be done through verifications, audits and projects, says Carlsen.

“We want to know more about which changes weaken robustness, as well as safety and working environment results, in order to assess how the players implement necessary countermeasures.

“The goal is to ensure that the companies themselves identify negative trends and choose sufficiently robust solutions. Activities must be organised to reduce short- and long-term risk.

“We’ll also be developing methods for evaluating the long-term effects of work on robust solutions, both by the industry and in our own organisation.”

Sharing knowledge between the players is very important in this area, he adds, and says that active use of established collaboration fora is essential.

The PSA’s supervision will be directed primarily at the overarching perspective – how systems and management ensure robustness.

“In parallel, however, we’ll be monitoring the sharp end of the industry,” Carlsen emphasises. “That means in part looking at how companies have specifically built robustness into technical facilities and how they’re organised for robust planning.”

Robustness in brief

  • The PSA considers a system or organisation to be robust if it also operates reliably under pressure of circumstances.
  • Robust solutions are ones with built-in safety margins for coping with changed conditions and uncertainty – a leeway which allows the business to handle unforeseen incidents.
  • Such solutions help to identify and deal effectively with hazards, and to ensure that sufficient time and resources are available to bring these under control.
  • Requirements for robust solutions apply to technology, capacity, expertise, organisation and management in every phase of the activity.