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Trends in risk level 2012: need for action

Figures from the report on trends in risk level in the petroleum activity (RNNP) show good progress in many areas, but also give grounds for concern. The industry needs to act to improve management of major accident risk and barriers.


* The RNNP study occupies an important place in the industry by contributing to a unified understanding of trends in risk level among companies, employees and government.

* Its results are presented in annual reports, and the latest of these documents is the 12th in the series.

* Moreover, this is the sixth year to include data gathered from the land-based plants.

* The survey was extended in 2010 to cover trends in the risk of acute discharges on the NCS. The 2012 figures on acute discharges will be published this autumn.

The annual RNNP survey from the Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) reveals that many indicators are moving in the right direction and showing continuous improvement.

But difficult problems also exist, emphasises Finn Carlsen, acting director general of the PSA.

A matter of particular concern is that the important major accident indicator is now moving in the wrong direction. That applies particularly to mobile facilities, but can also be seen for production installations.

“No major accidents occurred in the Norwegian petroleum sector during 2012, but we experienced several serious events with a clear major accident potential,” Carlsen says.

“These are incidents which could have developed into a major accident in marginally different circumstances.”

Negative
Serious incidents which helped to turn the overall indicator in a negative direction included the gas leak on Heimdal, the oil and gas leak on Ula, structural damage on the Yme installation and stability problems on the mobile Scarabeo 8 and Floatel Superior facilities.

“We had a limited number of incidents, but those which did occur were serious,” says Carlsen. “One event of that kind can unleash a disaster.”

The overall indicator needs to show a continuous positive trend if Norway’s petroleum sector is to be a world leader for health, safety and the environment (HSE), the goal set for it by the Storting (parliament).

Carlsen says that the message to the industry is therefore clear: “Its risk management must improve, and it must pay greater attention to managing risk associated with major accidents.

“Such incidents are characterised by a low probability that they will happen, but big potential consequences should they nevertheless occur.

“Even if their likelihood is low, we must plan for the unlikely happening, and not calculate or assess ourselves away from the problem.”

He emphasises that risk management needs to improve to prevent major accidents from taking place. “The industry must reverse the present trend now.”

Vigorous
The industry also has to make a vigorous effort where barrier management is concerned, Carlsen warns.

Barrier indicators reveal fairly substantial differences in the level of performance between installations on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS).

That applied not only in 2012 but also over the past decade, and a number of installations have relatively poorer results for certain barrier systems.

Given the recent attention paid by the industry to preventing major accidents, the PSA would have expected greater improvements in this area than data from the past few years show.

“The barrier-related figures we see in the RNNP report aren’t good enough,” affirms Carlsen. “I’m talking about safety-critical barriers which fail to match recognised performance standards.

“The companies know there are barriers which don’t function as they should, but do nothing about it. We can’t have that. The companies must live up to their responsibilities here.”

Challenges related to barrier management also apply to Norway’s eight petroleum-related plants on land.

Positive
Where hydrocarbon leaks are concerned, however, the RNNP figures show that the positive trend is continuing. Just six such escapes were recorded on the NCS in 2012 – the lowest number ever.

“This development is gratifying,” acknowledges Carlsen. “The industry, under pressure from us, has established clear reduction targets and worked purposefully to attain them.”

He emphasises that the decline is the fruit of a continuous long-term commitment. “After a number of years of steady reduction, we’re now at a record-low level.

“This provides a clear example that progress is achieved in those areas which receive priority and attention from the industry. Maintaining continuous improvement is very important.”

OTHER KEY POINTS IN THE 2012 RNNP REPORT:

No fatalities – positive trend for personal injuries
Serious personal injuries have declined in recent years, and the frequency of such incidents is now 0.51 per million working hours for the NCS as a whole.

No fatal accidents were suffered in the Norwegian petroleum industry during 2012.

Well control incidents increasing
The number of well control incidents showed a slight rise, from 13 in 2011 to 16. Eleven of the 2012 incidents were in the lowest risk category, while one was in the next-lowest. The increase came in the exploration drilling area.

No leaks from risers
No leaks occurred from risers in the safety zones of staffed installations during 2012.

Fewer ships on collision courses
The number of vessels on a collision course declined substantially, and the 2012 level was significantly lower than the average for 2005-11.

Positive trend for helicopter incidents
The indicator reflecting the most serious helicopter incidents made good progress from 2011 to 2012, reinforcing a positive trend since 2007.

Challenges in maintenance management
Figures from 2009 to 2012 show that a number of players face challenges in complying with regulatory requirements for maintenance management. The problem is worst for mobile facilities.

These challenges related to tagging and classifying equipment, backlogs in preventive maintenance and outstanding corrective work – including safety-critical maintenance.

Expecting quieter conditions
The noise indicator shows a slight improvement, but a bigger commitment is needed in this area. Under pressure from the PSA, the industry imitated a joint project to reduce noise in the petroleum sector. The PSA expects this to yield improvements in the noise indicator over time.

RISK LEVEL ON LAND

Four unignited and one ignited hydrocarbon leaks were reported from the eight land-based plants under the PSA’s jurisdiction in 2012.

In addition came three small fires, two toxic leaks, 24 cases of dropped objects and one accident involving a vehicle.

The number of unignited hydrocarbon leaks was lower than the eight recorded in 2011, and a substantial reduction from the 2008 figure of 21.

More personal injuries
Seven personal injuries which qualify as serious were reported in 2012, compared with three the year before. But the 2012 figure is the second best annual performance for the whole period from 2006.

The total personal injury frequency for the land-based plants increased from 0.3 serious personal injuries per million working hours in 2011 to 0.6.

Need to improve barrier management
Data related to barriers against major accidents reveal big variations between the plants. Certain barrier functions have a failure rate at several plants which exceeds the expected value.

It is important that the industry follows up barrier performance in a good way, so that weaknesses are identified and dealt with.

English version of the summary report will be published on our web site by the end of May 2013.