Posted on: September 13, 2010 Posted by: Diane Swarts Comments: 0

Principles of occupational health, safety and environment risk legislation and practice in the oil industry are reviewed by safety consultants and legislators.

Effectiveness of USA regulations requiring specific minimum safety standards, is in question. Some commentators say minimum standards allow companies to hide behind the letter of the law, instead of working to protect workers and the environment through self regulation.

A third party safety audit ensurer, Det Norske Veritas, said the USA should reduce reliance on specific, prescriptive safety regulation, to focus on performance based regulations.

Companies should be forced to implement risk management plans for specific projects.

The Deepwater Horizon semi submersible explosion and Gulf of Mexico oil spill have prompted a worldwide review of petrochemicals occupational safety practice and legislation, reports Oil and Gas Journal.

Performance based law

Performance based regulation would allow companies to determine the best way to achieve safety targets, said DNV. The independent risk management foundation published a position paper on September 3, after the Norwegian Oil Industry Association requested a comparison of USA and Norwegian offshore regulation.

“Operators should take responsibility for risk management,” said Peter Bjerager, DNV Energy North America senior vice-president and director of operations, in the paper; ‘An effective US offshore safety regime.’

Meanwhile Energy Policy Research Foundation in Washington said the National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling may be inclined to suggest prescriptive provisions on how offshore operations should be conducted to prevent loss incidents.

“Such an approach is politically appealing, but may not lead to a higher level of safety,” said EPRINC in June. “Technology is developing fast [and could outstrip regulatory provisions]. Safety cases should be given careful review.”

Governments in the UK and elsewhere use a safety case system, in which each project receives individual review.

“The USA has resisted a safety case system, but that may be changing,” said EPRINC president Lucian Pugliaresi to Oil and Gas Journal.

Regulations that reward a strong safety culture are likely to yield better long term results than specific regulations, which are quickly outdated by technological advances.

Minimum requirements v assessment

USA has prescriptive regulations that specify minimum actions. Norway’s regulations are performance based, allowing companies to determine best approaches case by case.

Prescriptive regulations set the lowest acceptable safety level, leaving regulatory agencies with the greatest sense of responsibility to confirm compliance, DNV said. Performance-based regulations provide for continuous technological advances by placing responsibility with the owner or operator.

“In Norway, it is the overall responsibility of the operator to ensure safe and prudent operation of the entire petroleum activities in line with the regulations. In the US, this responsibility is shared between the operator and the authorities through prescriptive requirements and authority approvals,” DNV said.

Norwegian regulations are mainly risk-based while US regulations do not require participants in offshore drilling activities to systematically identify and mitigate risk, the position paper said. Also, Norway separates the authority for resource management and health, safety, and environment management, while the same authority traditionally has handled both in the USA.

Elisabeth Torstad, chief operating officer of DNV Americas and sub-Saharan Africa, said DNV recommends a risk-management approach as the basis for a revised US regulatory regime to improve the safety of offshore exploration and production.

“It will also meet the public expectations for assessment of all risks, as well as accommodate further development in safety and environmental protection,” Torstad said. She believes risk-management tactics could reduce the risk of major accidents tenfold.

Det Norske Veritas recommends that occupational health and sfety management systems should contain at least these features;

  • Performance and incident metrics following detailed regulation
  • Consideration of technology, organisation, and people
  • Clear roles and responsibilities
  • Enforced risk identification, reduction, and control
  • Shared performance monitoring
  • Practicality and economically feasibility
  • Balance between risk, control, and operations

Standardisation, like American Petroleum Institute standards and DNV Offshore Codes.

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