The Weekly Reflektion 35/2022

People doing safety critical work should have sufficient restbefore work. Regulatory requirements and company policiesshould be put in place to ensure this.

Seaway Falcon pumping sea water on to Ekofisk Bravo platform during the blowout. ©NTB

How do you ensure cost saving measures do not reduce the safety level?

In April 1977, an oil well blowout occurred at the Ekofisk Bravo platform. The direct cause of the blowout was an incorrectly installed downhole safety valve. We have addressed this incident in earlier Reflektions. The investigation uncovered that both the drilling supervisor andthe wireline supervisor had been working for significantly more than 24 hours prior to the incident, and tiredness contributed to poor decision-making leading up to the blowout. As a result of this, the regulations covering oil and gas activities in the Norwegian sector were updated limiting planned shifts to 12 hours and ensuring at least 8 hours rest after a shift.

Recently, on 15th August, reports came in about a flight from Khartoum in Sudan to the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababawhere both Ethiopian Airlines pilots fell asleep, missing their landing. Air Traffic Control (ATC) raised an alert when the flight approached the airport at Addis Ababa but did not start the descent. It appears that with both pilots asleep, the Boeing 737’s autopilot system kept the plane cruising at 37,000 feet.The ATC tried to contact the pilots several times but didn’t succeed. When the plane overflew the runway, the autopilot disconnected which triggered an alarm and woke up the pilots, according to news sources.

The pilots, now awakened from their slumbers, manoeuvred the aircraft around to land at Addis Ababa 25 minutes later.No-one was harmed and the plane landed safely. Pilot fatigue was immediately blamed, but the official causes will have to wait for the results of an investigation. A similar incident was reported in May this year when two pilots fell asleep on a flight from New York to Rome as the plane travelled 38,000 feet above ground. An investigation was carried out by the aviation regulator, which confirmed that both the pilots were sleeping as their Airbus 330 flew over France.

In Norway recently, pilots at SAS took strike action and one of the reasons was disagreement with management over working hours. The continuing search for money-saving opportunities to maintain competitiveness and keep the tickets as low-priced as possible seems to be homing in on aspects that may have an impact on the safety of passengers. We recently had a series of Reflektions on the Boeing 737 MAX development and the loss of 346 lives in two air crashes. The 737 MAX story showed us how far management may go for commercial success. We often hear that cost-reduction measures have been evaluated and have no effect on safety level. These incidents certainly give us reason to doubt these claims.

How do you ensure that cost reduction measures really do not impact safety levels? A gut-feeling and a superficial understanding that it should be OK is not enough. What sort of processes do you have in place, and are they functioning satisfactorily?

Reflekt AS