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Chemical health and safety progress?

Following extensive media coverage, interest from the political sphere and input from the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway, an industry-wide project was implemented to improve the chemical working environment in the petroleum industry. In the aftermath, the PSA asked the companies: have things improved?


The chemicals project, carried out between 2007 and 2012, came about when the PSA's review of corporate practice in the area showed that the companies were exercising inadequate risk management. All the industry participants concerned, from both employer and employee sides, therefore joined forces in a major chemicals project with a view to assisting in improvements.

Survey questionnaire
In the wake of the project, the PSA wondered whether there were real improvements in this area, and therefore carried out a questionnaire-based survey aimed at operating companies with offshore and onshore facilities in operation. Management, coordinating senior safety delegates and a total of 31 working environment committees took part in the survey.

Responses

  • In their responses, all participants agreed that the period 2007-2012 saw increased activity in the area and that the companies have strengthened their chemicals working environment expertise.
     
  • Many companies have not implemented the guidelines that the project produced. Only two companies had implemented the guideline for tightness testing of respirators.
     
  • The companies' improvement work seems to have been reflected in the working environment committees' activities only to a limited degree. They are generally not greatly involved in issues concerning the chemical working environment and have few cases on this topic on their agendas.
     
  • The senior safety delegates point out that, in their experience, the companies' improvement work is not deeply anchored in the management. In the main, they believe that the safety delegates are properly involved in the work carried out.

According to PSA head of section, Sigve Knudsen, both the survey questionnaire and experience from audits in the area show that the companies still have a lot of work to do in terms of performing qualified mapping and risk assessment of chemical working environments.

"It appears as if the companies were proactive for a period in finding out what should be done in the area but when it comes to actual execution they have underperformed", he says.

"We would have liked to have seen more diligent occupational hygiene fieldwork, clearer conclusions about risks and better cooperation between the companies in developing knowledge of chemical exposure and effective measures.

Conversely, we note that there have been positive trends in certain areas. New technologies have been developed which yield significant improvements in working conditions, for example in the cleaning of drilling mud. I believe that the industry's chemicals project may have been particularly significant for this development."