Is offshore major accident risk increasing?

6 major accident precursor incidents occurred during a period of about 10 days in October in the Norwegian offshore sector. Statoil management was twice in the same week called to a meeting in Petroleum Safety Authority to explain what had occurred. Workers union representatives are understandingly very worried.

Representatives of the companies and the industry are at the same time repeating on what may appear as autopilot that costs are cut while at the same time ensuring that there is no effect on safety. But this is only wishful thinking, experience has shown over and over that when the framework conditions are changed, this has effect on safety.

The situation is starting to be as in the late 1990s, where the distrust between the parties (industry, unions, authorities) was severe. This lead to the initiation of the RNNP, in order to give all parties a common knowledge basis.

The situation is on the other hand also a bit like the situation for the Norwegian Ski Federation after their two top athletes experienced positive doping test in the second half of 2016. The Norwegian Ski Federation management initially did not appear to realize that they had a system or management problem, but arrogantly dismissed the two incidents as bad luck or unfortunate incidents. After some time they finally realized that they needed to appear a bit more humble, and acknowledged that there may be a management problem.

It may be time for the representatives of the companies and the industry to start to behave a bit more humbly. ‘Autopilot responses’ are not enough any more. Statoil’s cultural problems with risk awareness and failure to learn from experience has been known for several years, since PSA in 2010 ordered Statoil to study how they could improve their culture, after serious incidents in the years just after the merger with Hydro’s oil and gas division. The IRIS report found serious weaknesses in the company culture.

There is at present no doubt that the frequency of major accident precursor incidents is increasing significantly, especially for the installations involved in oil and gas production in the Norwegian sector, by how much will be revealed when the next RNNP report is published in April 2017. It is now essential that Statoil management accepts this, and acts to improve the situation.

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