Encouraging work in the industry on barriers and barrier management will remain a high priority for the PSA.
Gerhard Ersdal has headed the authority’s work on its barriers main priority in recent years. He explains the goal of this commitment and how it will now be carried forward.
Barriers have been one of the PSA’s four main priorities in 2016. Now that the authority is concentrating on a single issue in 2017 – reversing the trend – the main priorities are being phased out.
Can you explain what a barrier is?
The regulations define barriers as measures to safeguard against faults, hazards and accidents. Furthermore, they comprise “technical, operational and organisational elements which are intended individually or collectively to reduce the possibility for a specific error, hazard or accident to occur, or which limit its harm/disadvantages”.
These obstacles will help to prevent an undesirable incident escalating or developing in a new direction, and will include technical, organisational and operational barrier elements.
Why did barriers become a PSA main priority?
They’ve been incorporated in the regulations since 2002, but we’ve seen that the industry’s implementation of these requirements has taken time.
We’ve been following up work on barrier management in the sector for many years, and have had this as one of our main priorities since 2010.
Over these years, we’ve conducted a number of supervisory activities and been a driver in boosting awareness and knowledge in the industry about barriers and their management.
Through our follow-up, we’ve seen relatively big differences between the players in understanding of, and thereby compliance with, the regulatory requirements on barrier management.
The companies have largely adopted modern risk management strategies and systems. But we nevertheless continue to register failures in and weakening of barriers.
That represents a recurrent cause of undesirable incidents in the sector, not least in connection with well integrity and gas leaks.
Since we have many aging installations and plants in the petroleum industry, it’s important that barriers receive special attention in the future.
The PSA’s barrier document attracted great attention from players in the industry. What was its purpose?
Through our audits, investigations and mapping of risk in the petroleum sector, we’d observed relatively big differences between the players in their understanding of and compliance with the barrier management requirement.
We accordingly published a document in 2011 which described our expectations for good barrier management. This didn’t contain any new requirements, but provided a technical amplification of the subject.
A new version is due to be published on ptil.no in the spring of 2017. What changes will it include?
Audits and investigations have revealed that the companies have done little to identify the human contribution to barriers. Attention has largely focused on technical elements.
We launched a project a couple of years ago to reinforce a more integrated approach to barrier management, which also takes account of the human factors.
The aim has been to boost knowledge and understanding in the companies, particularly for barriers related to well control, hydrocarbon leaks, maritime incidents and emergency preparedness.
What effect has this commitment to barriers had after six years as one of the PSA’s main priorities?
The work has contributed to increased attention on and greater knowledge of barriers and barrier management.
As a follow-up to our document, the companies have taken initiatives to revise internal documents so that these accord with the regulatory requirements and the amplification we’ve provided.
This exercise of our regulatory function is likely to have played a significant part in the long-term improvements achieved during these years, and it’ll continue to do so.
Viewed from an overarching perspective, this is a commitment which contributes to maintaining and further developing safety in the sector.
What is the biggest challenge ahead?
The degree to which the companies have taken the regulatory requirements seriously varies, so room still exists for improvement here.
We also see that the industry must acquire a better understanding of the interaction between operational, organisational and technical elements in the barriers.
At the same time, knowledge about the way risk and barrier management hang together needs to be strengthened. These two areas are intertwined, but represent different jobs.
“The economic downturn and financial constraints, efficiency gains and cost reductions challenge regulatory requirements and the level of safety that’s been built up,” says Bjørn Thomas Bache, one of the PSA’s directors of supervision.
“These circumstances are significant both for the operation of existing facilities and for future developments.
“Attention needs to be paid to maintaining barriers, so that risk continues to be reduced. This job rests primarily with the players, but we’ll also be following up as the regulator.”
He emphasises that much work remains to be done, particularly with regard to operational and organisational barrier elements.
“Among other things, we’ll be including this issue in the work on our main issue for 2017 – reversing the trend.