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December 19, 2011

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“Improve safety reps’ training”, experts tell offshore industry

Operators of oil and gas installations could do more to improve safety reps’ competence, particularly in relation to major operational hazard risks, which would bring benefits in risk management, safety culture and business costs.

This is one of a number of measures that a government-commissioned review of the UK’s oil and gas regime has put forward to improve health and safety on offshore platforms.

In March this year, and in response to the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico, ministers commissioned a panel of experts to undertake an independent review of the UK’s offshore oil and gas safety and environmental protection regime.

Releasing its report last week, the panel – headed by Professor Geoffrey Maitland of Imperial College, London – acknowledged that while both the industry and its regulators “strongly subscribe to the need for continuous improvement”, there are areas where there is further scope to reduce the risks of incidents occurring.

In light of the results of the HSE’s recent project to assess the industry’s compliance with the Offshore Installations (Safety representatives and Safety committees) Regulations 1989, the panel concluded that the industry could benefit more from the contributions of safety reps if they received better training that goes beyond the legal minimum requirement.

The panel recommends that operating companies take steps to ensure that safety reps:

  • are provided with access to training over and above the statutory minimum requirements to develop competence in the identification of major-risk hazards and in communication skills, in addition to occupational safety matters;
  • are appropriately involved in the preparation and maintenance of safety cases; and
  • are encouraged to exercise their powers to report process-safety concerns, inspect installations and investigate incidents, as part of their normal duties and without any fear of recrimination. 

Other than safety reps, the panel also urges the industry and regulators to encourage better sharing of information on incidents. The HSE, in particular, is asked to strengthen the guidance in its Loss Containment manual, which covers the legal requirements under the MHSWR 1999 to investigate the causes of incidents, learn lessons and take remedial action.

Aware of the need to ensure a highly-qualified and competent workforce at the HSE, the panel calls on the regulator to ensure that it is “in a position to recruit and retain inspectors and managers of the right number, quality, experience and range of specialities”. And, to improve coordination of regulation, the panel says it would like to see the creation of a joint Competent Authority, comprising the HSE and environment inspectors from the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC), similar to that currently operating on the mainland.

Commenting on the report, Energy minister Charles Hendry said: “A great many of the insightful recommendations of the report are characterised by the theme of collaboration, whether that be between regulators, amongst operators or across those boundaries.

“In this respect, as one of the responses to the Deepwater Horizon incident, a new Memorandum of Understanding has already been signed between DECC and the HSE. I have asked that the joint Board, which has been established as a result, provides advice to myself and DWP ministers on the recommendations which are relevant to the regulators.”

The minister has asked the regulators to work with industry to produce an agreed response and action plan by July 2012.

The report, Offshore Oil and Gas in the UK – an independent review of the regulatory regime, is at:

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