The Weekly Reflektion Week 44 / 2020

One dilemma that is faced by companies with activities in different countries is how to resolve a situation where a risk may be acceptable in one country and not in another. This is particularly challenging with technical risk where the company may aspire to common standards in all countries.

Are you susceptible to ‘what the eye doesn’t see the heart doesn’t grieve over?

The assessment and acceptance of risks associated with any operation is a key process in decision making. The risks are often determined by considering the probability of any event and the consequences of this event. The risks are then plotted on a risk matrix that typically uses different colours to distinguish risks. For frequency, some organizations use terminology like ‘happens every week’, ‘happens every year’, ‘has happened in the industry’, etc. Consequences may be related to serious injury, fatality, or multiple fatalities. Normally the greater the risk, the higher up in the organization the person accepting (or not) the risk needs to be. The person accepting (or not) the risk, also takes on the responsibility of ensuring the risk is assessed in other areas he/she has responsibility for.

In 2005 a drop test was carrier out on a free-fall lifeboat on aplatform in the Norwegian sector of the North Sea. For the test, 25 kg sandbags were placed in the lifeboat seats to simulate the weight of people on board. The lifeboat roof caved in. The incident led to an industry-wide project to investigate the safety and reliability of all lifeboats on offshore installations in Norway. This included both freefall and conventional lowering lifeboats. 

One international company with conventional lifeboats on their installations assessed the risk. The consequence used was 50 fatalities (the lifeboat capacity). The frequency was assessed as ‘has happened before in the industry’. There are several examples of failure of conventional lifeboats in the petroleum industry including the evacuation from the Enchovaplatform in Brazil in August 1984. 36 people lost their life when the lowering mechanism failed. The company identified modifications to improve the safety and reliability of the lowering mechanism.

The subsequent risk level was higher than what could be accepted by the management locally and should have beentransferred to head office for approval. There was resistance to involving head office. One of the concerns was that having been informed of the risk in Norway, head office would be obliged to consider the risk on installations not in Norway and whether the proposed modifications were appropriate for these areas. There are many countries that do not have the same standards for conventional lowering lifeboats as Norway. Would accepting the risk create an obligation to review and potentially upgrade lifeboats in other locations? 

Once you know about a risk in one area then you are obliged to consider this risk in other relevant areas. This does not mean that a risk accepted in one area is acceptable in another area. There may be good reasons for a different decision and if the reasons are good then there should be no problem in documenting them. What is not acceptable is to ignore the risk and sweep it under the carpet.

Reflekt AS