Continuous improvement – a recipe for “free lunch”?

Norwegian authorities, including the Storting (Parliament), Ministry of Labour and Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) have repeated on numerous occasions the last 15 years that Norway shall aim to be world leading in offshore petroleum HES (Health, Environment and Safety). This was repeated by the new conservative Minister of Labour visiting PSA just after the new year in 2016. Continuous improvement is one of the most important tools, as recently stated by PSA.

On the one hand it appears that the industry agrees with the ambition to be world leading. But on the other hand, Norwegian Oil and Gas voiced an opinion in the media just after the new year, that it was OK to reduce budgets for safety in line with the industry’s ongoing cost cutting initiatives in general.

So can you have continuous improvement with reduced costs? If so, is this a recipe for “free lunch”? We do not think so. Our research has demonstrated that with respect to major hazard risk at least, continuous improvement has been a “slogan” without real contents for more than 20 years.

We have recently suggested to PSA that they need to publish guidance on how to implement “continuous improvement”, to avoid it just being a slogan, and become the important tool (?) it is supposed to be.

In our view, continuous improvement and cost cutting in the HES field are incommensurable. With the extensive improvement of risk levels that has been achieved over the past 30 years, further improvement does not at all come without costs. Further improvement is in many areas quite challenging (and costly!) with this background and context. That is one of the reasons why PSA guidance has been missed for a long time.

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