Offshore safety in Norway to 1990

person By Gunleiv Hadland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
The early years of oil operations on the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS), from 1965 to the late 1970s, have been described in retrospect as dominated by an American work culture.
— Roughnecks at Transocean. Photo: Unknown/Norwegian Petroleum Museum
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This was anti-union and imposed strict discipline on the rank-and-file. The workforce was also almost entirely male, and a “cowboy” culture developed where people were ready to take chances.

A number of accidents occurred. With the priority given to efficiency and productivity, safety measures were regarded to some extent as unnecessary costs. [REMOVE]Fotnote: Smith-Solbakken, Marie (1997). Oljearbeiderkulturen: historien om cowboyer og rebeller, Trondheim: 72.

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With the priority given to efficiency and productivity, safety measures were regarded to some extent as unnecessary costs. Photo: Harry Nor-Hansen/Norwegian Petroleum Museum

Operations off Norway were dominated by young personnel, with a big foreign component. The climate was fairly rigorous, and the land was further away than in earlier offshore activities.

The number of serious accidents eventually built up, and efforts to improve safety became more systematic.

So how did thinking about safe working develop in the confrontation between the cowboy culture and Norwegian traditions and a stricter regime? And how did planning of Draugen build on earlier experience?

Working Environment Act

One step towards improving conditions offshore was to extend the Working Environment Act adopted by Norway in 1977 to the NCS. Applying this legislation to the oil sector was under discussion even before it came into force.

The large number of foreign companies and employees involved, often on short-term contracts, posed particular difficulties in establishing a uniform system and ensuring adequate control.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, annual report 1977: 6.
A push towards introducing the Act offshore was provided by a fire which affected the Ekofisk Alpha platform in the North Sea on 1 November 1975.

Immediately after this incident, the industry ministry required operator Phillips Petroleum to establish a safety delegate service for the field.

Furthermore, a safety and environmental committee was established. This became the forerunner of the working environment committee later required under the Act. [REMOVE]Fotnote:
Temporary regulations based on the legislation, with some exceptions, were applied to fixed installations on the NCS with effect from 1 July 1977.

The Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) was appointed as the regulatory authority.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norwegian Petroleum Directorate, annual report 1977: 50. The Act was not extended to floating facilities until 1992.

A “tripartite” collaboration between employers, employees and government formed the cornerstone of Norway’s working environment regime. The workers had a legal right to be consulted.

Such employee participation was not normal in the American labour relations practice followed by a number of the international oil companies.

The Act therefore aroused great opposition, and the meeting between US and Norwegian work cultures proved difficult at times. Some fears were expressed in the oil industry that it would boost costs and cause delays for development projects.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Stavanger Aftenblad, 4 April 1978, “Arbeidsmiljøloven fryktes i Nordsjøen. Uviss innvirkning på den videre Statfjord-utbyggingen”.

Sikkerhet offshore fram til 1990,
Engraved American-style helmet. Many Americans brought such personal helmets to Norway at the start of the oil industry. There was some kind of pride and an unofficial hierarchy in relation to how advanced the engraving on the helmet was. Some were engraved by hand, while others were done mechanically. Eventually, helmets of aluminum were banned due to spark hazard and the possibility of electrically conductive material. Photo: Shadé Barka Martins/Norwegian Petroleum Museum

A main goal of the legislation was that working environment problems should be resolved as far as possible at local level through joint action by employees and employers.

One of its key provisions was that technology should be tailored to people, and requirements were specified for designing a workplace.

That involved stipulations for such physical aspects as lighting, ventilation, noise pollution and the use of personal protective equipment (PPE).

Employee codetermination would be ensured with mandatory safety delegates elected by them and the working environment committee drawn from both management and rank-and-file.

Company leaderships were obliged to collaborate with the delegates, who could halt a work operation on their own judgement if they considered it likely to cause an accident.

At the same time, each employee was to help create a good and healthy working environment and seek to prevent accidents and damaged to health. They had a legal duty to use prescribed PPE.

However, the main responsibility for safety was placed unambiguously on the employer.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Ryggvik, Helge (2007): “Sikker atferd i et historisk perspektiv”, in Tinmannsvik (ed): Robust arbeidspraksis. Hvorfor skjer det ikke flere ulykker på sokkelen?, Trondheim.

The government supervised compliance, and could impose orders on the operators if they failed to follow up working conditions.

Bravo blowout and offshore safety

Sikkerhet offshore fram til 1990, engelsk,
Blow-out on Ekofisk 2/4 B. The supply and rescue vessel "Seaway Falcon" hosing water up the gas and oil stream. Foto: ConocoPhillips/Norwegian Petroleum Museum

After the uncontrolled blowout on the Ekofisk 2/4 B (Bravo) platform in April 1977, it became clear that Norwegian offshore safety was not good enough and the risk level stood too high.

The government launched an extensive offshore safety research programme in 1978. Although this concentrated on the safety of people, it also identified risk factors related to the environment and material assets.

Attention was given to safety management, defined as conscious measures to increase the probability of avoiding harm and harmful incidents. Preventing fire and explosion occupied a key place.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Kårstad and Wulff (1983). Sikkerhet på sokkelen, Oslo: 94.

kart, Sikkerhet offshore fram til 1990
Norwegian continental shelf at the end of 1977. The limit for oil drilling was 62 degrees north, approximately at Stad, north in Sogn og Fjordane. Map: Norwegian Petroleum Directorate

The internal control principle was developed by the NPD in the wake of the Bravo blowout and the extension of the Working Environment Act.

Targeted at the oil companies, this concept replaced direct inspection by the regulators with a duty on operators to conduct safety checks and follow up work on safety.

The commission of inquiry into the Bravo incident concluded that it was caused by human error, which had its roots in turn in weak administrative systems, instructions and routines.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Moe, Johannes (1999). På tidens skanser, Trondheim: 184.

A number of studies into blowout risk and impact assessments of such incidents were carried out.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norwegian Official Reports (NOU)1979:8. Risko for utblåsning på norsk kontinentalsokkel.The oil they released could potentially harm the natural environment, including fisheries.

Kielland disaster and internal control

The capsizing of the Alexander L Kielland accommodation rig (flotel) in 1980 has been very significant for safety thinking in the Norwegian petroleum sector.

With 123 lives lost, it ranks as Norway’s worst-ever industrial disaster. The subsequent inquiry highlighted inadequate safety training and exercises, and lack of life-saving equipment.

One of the big changes in the wake of the accident was that internal control became systematised. This recognised that rapid technological advances made it difficult for the government to keep its regulations relevant and up-to-date.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Norwegian Official Reports (NOU) 1987:10.  Internkontroll i en samlet strategi for arbeidsmiljø og sikkerhet: 39.

The outcome was the publication in 1981 of official guidelines for internal control by licensees in the petroleum sector.[REMOVE]Fotnote: A duty to operate prudently in accordance with the regulatory requirements was imposed on the responsible companies.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Ryggvik, Helge (2007): “Sikker atferd i et historisk perspektiv”, in Tinmannsvik (ed): Robust arbeidspraksis. Hvorfor skjer det ikke flere ulykker på sokkelen?, Trondheim.

Piper Alpha and planning on Draugen

Another major accident, this time on the UK continental shelf, had direct consequences for safety thinking related to Draugen.

The Piper Alpha platform caught fire and exploded in 1988, causing the deaths of 167 people – two-thirds of those who had been on board.

Its direct cause was the removal of a pump for overhaul. A misunderstanding meant an attempt was nevertheless made to start it. That led in turn to a gas leak with subsequent ignition, fire and explosion.[REMOVE]Fotnote:
A notification had been given to the control room on a work permit that the pump must not be started, but this had failed to reach the right people.

Piper Alpha was originally designed in 1976 for oil production, and its firewalls were constructed to protect against the heat from an oil blaze.

However, they could not withstand the pressure created by a gas explosion. A gas module was installed in 1980, with gas compression immediately beneath the control room.

The disaster focused extra attention on the need to tighten up requirements for safety procedures related not only to oil and gas operations but also to platform design.[REMOVE]Fotnote:
A more complex causal picture was revealed by the official commission of inquiry, with a number of faults and deficiencies in equipment and reporting routines as well as poor communication.

Lack of control and coordination was a key finding, with poor follow-up and checking of work permits in the years ahead of the accident.

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The Piper Alpha platform on fire, shown on the front page of the investigation report from the British authorities. Source: Department of Energy

The report contained a large number of recommendations, including a requirement for all operators to prepare a safety case.[REMOVE]Fotnote:

This is a structured document which establishes the safety challenges faced and identifies the responsibilities of the operator company’s management.

Shell UK paid close attention to the Piper Alpha inquiry, and the Draugen development organisation secured access to updated information which could be used in the project.

An extensive safety case was developed for the field, which built in part on the Piper Alpha recommendations as well as practice in Shell’s international organisation.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Interview with Mahdi Hasan, 11 August 2017.

A number of companies developed a health, safety and environmental (HSE) case, which listed challenges in these areas and clarified the measures taken and the procedures in force.

These cases analysed which parts of the process could lead to pollution as well as the probability of an accident occurring,[REMOVE]Fotnote: “Environmental Risk Assessment of a Leakage based Injection Water Discharge from Draugen on the Norwegian Continental Shelf”, SPE/EPA/DOE Exploration and Production Environmental Conference, 2001.

while listing job categories and the associated responsibility.

An HSE case was also drawn up for Draugen using a structure developed by Shell International. This formed part of a strategy for global standardisation, where the same governing documents, guidelines and controls would apply everywyhere.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Hoem, Anders (2014), How does the Shell global HSSE control framework align with the Norwegian HSE regulations in light of general principles of risk, risk management, asset integrity and process safety? Master’s thesis in risk management, University of Stavanger. 
The Shell safety case has been used in a number of countries.

In addition to identifying the risk of major and minor accidents, the Draugen HSE case covers working environment factors such as ergonomics, the psychosocial environment and exposure to chemicals and noise.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Glas and Kjær (1996), “Draugen HSE Case – Occupational Health Risk Management”. International Conference on Health, Safety and the Environment. It is updated every five years.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Draugen HSE Case, dated 30 April 2012: 15.

Read more in the article on Draugen and safety.

Published October 2, 2018   •   Updated January 10, 2022
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Reorganising emergency responsibility

person by Trude Meland, Norwegian Petroleum Museum
Overall responsibility for emergency response on Draugen and the Norwegian continental shelf (NCS) between 62°N and 65°30’N lay with Kristiansund’s police commissioner from the mid-1980s. But no longer.
— From a storm in 2013. Photo: A/S Norske Shell/Norwegian Petroleum Museum
© Norsk Oljemuseum

The government proposed a new police reform in 2013 which included merging the Nordmøre and Romsdal district with Sunnmøre, with the commissioner moving from Kristiansund to Ålesund.

These plans prompted outrage in Nordmøre and added fuel to the flames of an old local government dispute which has created and continues to maintain dissension in Møre og Romsdal county.

Offshore preparedness

The presence of both Shell and Statoil has helped to propel Kristiansund to the status of the oil centre for this part of Norway. Responsibility for emergency preparedness in the area of the NCS lying roughly between Ålesund to the south and Brønnøysund in the north lay in the town for some three decades.

This region includes such fields as Draugen, Ormen Lange, Åsgard and Njord, as well as the Tjeldbergodden and Nyhamna gas facilities on land. Nordmøre and Romsdal was one on four police districts along the coast responsible for strategic and operational leadership of any incidents arising on an offshore installation.

The others were Rogaland for the NCS south of the 62nd parallel, Helgeland between 65°30’N and 68°30’N and Troms above 68°30’N and the seas outside Svalbard’s territorial waters. Rogaland police district, embracing Stavanger, has also been required to provide assistance in investigating major oil-related incidents above 62°N.[REMOVE]Fotnote: National Police Directorate (2011): PBS 1. Politiets beredskapssystem, del 1. Retningslinjer for politiets beredskap, 103.

Police responsibility

The commissioner is responsible for the exercise of all police powers within their offshore area, and for the commitment of resources required to discharge duties on the NCS. They are also responsible for any post-response investigation.

In addition to preparing an updated plan for offshore emergency response, the offshore police district collaborates with the armed forces in exercises. It maintains contacts with the operator companies and sees to it that they also understand their functions during an actual incident.

The police are also charged with established reception facilities on land in the event of a possible evacuation following an offshore incident. They must keep in regular contact with the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA), and have investigating officers with expertise on matters relating to petroleum operations.

Finally, each offshore police district must have service personnel with specialist knowledge for taking over an installation after a possible action phase.

Police reform

The number of Norwegian police districts was reduced from 27 to 12 on 1 January 2016 in what has been called the “close policing” reform.

hvem har ansvaret når alarmen går, kart, illustrasjon, engelsk,
map over the 12 police districts in Norway

After Nordmøre and Romsdal was merged with Sunnmøre, as noted above, the National Police Directorate (NPD) wanted the headquarters of the Møre and Romsdal district moved to Ålesund. That came as no surprise. This is the county’s largest town and lies midway between Bergen and Trondheim. The NPD also maintained that it also had the biggest recruitment base. But the question then was where responsibility for petroleum-related incidents off the Møre and Trøndelag coasts should lie.

The government wanted the NCS split between two police districts – south-west run from Stavanger and north from Tromsø – but failed to secure Storting (parliamentary) support.

Offshore responsibility was to continue to be divided between four police districts. But would this remain in Kristiansund or follow the police commissioner to Ålesund? Kristiansund and its hinterland mobilised vigorously to retain the police commissioner and responsibility for offshore emergency preparedness.

A number of consultation responses emphasised the extensive response collaboration built up in the town over 30 years, which made it easy to mobilise resources and expertise. In the event of accidents, moreover, Kristiansund had offshore expertise, a heliport and plans for taking care of possible injured personnel.

This interaction with the offshore industry’s emergency response resources was regarded as significant for the police’s ability to discharge its NCS duties.

In the event of an incident, the companies could quickly install their liaison officers at the police station. This physical presence was important for optimal coordination.

Although the police had and have specialised expertise on petroleum activities, they depend on supplementary knowledge from the industry when accidents occur offshore or at land plants.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Consultation: Norwegian Official Reports (NOU) 2013:9 Ett politi – rustet til å møte fremtidens utfordringer. Comments from Kristiansund local authority and KOM Vekst (Kristiansund and District Industrial Forum) of 3 October 2013; Nordmøre and Romsdal police district of 4 September 2013; Orkide (assembly of council chair and local authority chief administrators in Nordmøre) of 2 October 2013.

The fear was that moving the police commissioner and thereby offshore responsibility would mean a critical loss of special expertise, reduced efficiency, loss of time and increased costs.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Inderhaug, Erik (2016): “Hvordan skal politiet sikre denne?” Politiforum. (published 27 January 2016, downloaded 9 January 2018).

hvem har ansvaret når alarmen går, engelsk
Shell's headquarter in Kristiansund. Photo: Heine Schjølberg/A/S Norske Shell

A transfer to Ålesund might sunder strategic and operational leadership in the police from the other response teams for offshore operations.

Staying in Kristiansund would mean that, within a few minutes of an incident on Draugen, the police could be physically present in the second-line response at Norske Shell’s Råket facility. For their part, Ålesund’s supporters argued that emergency response would related in most cases to a serious event which required the police to establish a crisis team.

Where this was led from would be a secondary consideration. The specialist team in Kristiansund could deal with offshore emergency preparedness regardless of where the commissioner sat.

Norske Shell wanted the police in Kristiansund to retain responsibility for offshore preparedness, and responded to the consultation even though it was not formally invited to comment. The company stressed the good collaboration its emergency preparedness team had with the Nordmøre and Romsdal district’s offshore division, and the importance of maintaining this.

It also complained over the lack of specific details on how important considerations were to be handled if the headquarters were transferred to Ålesund.

“Our experience is that the understanding of oil sector processes, planning, emergency organisation and industry terminology enshrined in the operations centre, staff functions and operative response leadership has been positive for handling and investigating incidents on the NCS,” Shell stated.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Inderhaug, Erik (2016): “Hvordan skal politiet sikre denne?” Politiforum. (published 27 January 2016, downloaded 9 January 2018).

“Such expertise is built up through good communication and joint training. We would have wished to see a clarification of how this is envisaged in the future.”

Jobs too

Kristiansund has called on a number of occasions for more government and public sector jobs, and this was highlighted in the consultation response from the Kristiansund and District Industrial Forum (KOM Vekst).

The latter noted that Ålesund and Molde had received 190 and 139 new central government and county council jobs respectively in 2009-13, while the figure for Kristiansund was one.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Consultation: NOU 2013:9 Ett politi – rustet til å møte fremtidens utfordringer ­– KOM Vekst (Kristiansund and District Industrial Forum) of 3 October 2013.

When the town lost out to Molde in the fight over the Nordmøre and Romsdal hospital, the future for many expertise-based jobs vanished from the region.

Against that backdrop, the issue of the police commissioner’s headquarters generated strong feelings in Nordmøre. This involved not only emergency preparedness, but also local employment.

hvem har ansvaret når alarmen går, nyhet, engelsk,
From the newsfeed of Ministry of Justice and Public Security's webpage

The outcome was that the police commissioner post was transferred to Ålesund together with a substantial number of jobs. A government decision to locate the police pay and accounting centre, with 70 employees, to Kristiansund was therefore perceived as a form of compensation.

That was denied by justice minister Anders Anundsen, who claimed that the move formed part of a 2016 agreement with the Liberal Party on decentralisation of government employment.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Written question from Ingrid Heggø (Labour) to the minister of justice and emergency preparedness. Storting, document no 15:1539 (2015-2016), 9 September 2016.

It quickly became clear that the town would only be getting 50 new jobs, since another department located in Stavanger was taking over part of the police pay function.

To compensate for the “loss” of the 20 promised posts, an equal number of additional jobs were created at the Kristiansund tax office. According to the council, the extra employment more than compensated for the reduction in police posts.[REMOVE]Fotnote: Kristiansund – information publication from Kristiansund local authority. No 7, July 2017.

Published March 20, 2018   •   Updated September 23, 2020
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