The Weekly Reflektion Week 14 / 2020

The PSA main issue for 2020 is ‘Never another Major Accident’. Have you done anything to improve your systems for Major Accident prevention as a consequence of the PSA main issue? Have you taken any initiative in your company that builds on the main issue for PSA?

Major Accidents in the North Sea have had a significant influence on the development of the legislation and regulations governing the offshore petroleum industry. What would have happened if the changes made were recognised before the accidents? Could the accidents have been prevented? Was the need for such changes recognised before the accidents?

The capsize of the Sea Gem drilling rig in the UK sector of the Southern North Sea on the 27th December 1965 led to the Mineral Workings (Offshore Installations) Act 1971. The main provisions of this act were the establishment of detailed prescriptive regulations, the requirement for certification of the installation by Certifying Authorities and the requirement for an Offshore Installation Manager as focal point for responsibility.

The Ekofisk Bravo Blowout on the 22nd April 1977 led to Regulations on rest and restitution and lifeboat capacity, improvements in oil spill contingency and significant research into offshore safety. The investigation also highlighted that the underlying cause of the blowout was that organisational and administrative systems were inadequate to assure safe operations.

The Alexander Kielland disaster on 27th March 1980 led to a new Petroleum Law, new regulations based on functional requirements, main responsibility for regulation of safety being given to the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, new regulations and standards on fatigue and structural robustness and changes to requirements for offshore training in emergency response.

The Piper Alpha disaster on 6th July 1988 led to the introduction of goal setting regulations including the Offshore Safety Case Regulations. The Safety Case Regulations required that the operator make a case for safety for the installation and led to the implementation of safety cases for offshore installations. The safety case had three focus areas. The establishment of a safety management system (SMS), a process for hazard identification and identification of measures that assure the risk is reduced to as low as reasonable practicable (ALARP), and an audit system to ensure the safety management system is functioning as intended.

The regulations in both the UK and Norway have been continually updated and ‘improved’ through experience and through implementation of learning from Major Accidents outside the UK, for example the Deepwater Horizon blowout in 2010. What changes in regulations would be required if a Major Accident happened in the Norwegian offshore petroleum industry tomorrow? Is this difficult to predict without the details of the Major Accident and what happened? Let’s keep that question in mind for the follow up weekly Reflektions and look at what was being said in the UK before Piper Alpha.

The Other Price of Britain’s Oil is a book by W.G. Carson and was published in 1981, 7 years before the Piper Alpha disaster. At the time it was the most authoritative discussion of the health and safety at work situation in the UK sector of the North Sea. An interesting quote from the book is on page 289 and is a reflection over the loss of the Alexander Kielland in 1980.

‘The British authorities’ complacent belief in the superiority of their own regulatory approach will retain even the semblance of credibility only as long as a similar tragedy does not overtake an installation operating in the British sector of the North Sea.’ 

Prophetic words indeed. What actions could have been taken if the words had been taken seriously? Would the implementation of these actions have prevented Piper Alpha?

Reflekt AS