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Enthusiastic spotlight on HES culture

Has the focus on regulations, technology and watertight management systems come at the expense of the employees' ability and willingness to contribute to ensuring the best possible safety? Have we developed such a one-track mind for reducing the injury statistics that we have lost focus on other important HES factors, such as the working environment? And does it really help to have enthusiastic leaders who are committed to developing the company's HES culture if the employees do not share this enthusiasm?


The approximately 200 participants at the conference on HES culture under the direction of the NPD and RF-Rogaland Research were presented with a wide range of projects and studies conducted as part of the work to develop good HES cultures.

In addition, researchers contributed by presenting various projects related to HES, as well as to discussing what lies in the concept of an HES culture.

"The authorities expect the companies to work actively to establish a good HES culture. But if anyone thinks that the HES culture concept will be defined here, or if they are hoping to receive a recipe for what the companies should do in this area, then they will be disappointed. This was the message broadcast by Anne Vatten, Deputy Director General in the NPD, in her opening remarks for the conference which was held in Stavanger on 27 and 28 November. (Link: "">Conference on HES culture ")

Mandatory culture work
The authorities have clearly indicated a sharpened focus on the companies' work to ensure a good HES culture offshore. The authorities have also emphasized that ensuring that the HES culture is taken seriously throughout all parts of the organization is the responsibility of the company's management.

The requirement for a good health, environment and safety culture is laid down in the new HES regulations which came into force on 1 January 2002. Storting White Paper No. 7 (2001-2002), ("The HES White Paper"), also confirms that "Knowledge concerning the development of an organizational culture is based on the recognition that whatever the management systematically focuses on and prioritizes, becomes the corporate culture. Therefore, in the work on HES culture, management responsibility and management behavior are essential elements ".

As a consequence of this, the NPD has implemented a separate project aimed at the HES culture in the petroleum activities.

As part of this, even greater emphasis will be placed on the companies' HES cultures in the NPD's supervision activities in 2003.

This two-day conference on HES culture in Stavanger is another contribution to ensure that all parties involved in the Norwegian petroleum activities develop a conscious recognition of what working to develop the best possible HES culture actually means.

Develop HES culture through training
On the first day of the conference, Stig Stellberg from Norsk Hydro presented a culture project where as many as 750 Hydro employees have so far undergone a training program with the goal of developing the company's HES culture.

All Hydro employees who work within the petroleum activities must have completed the training program during the course of 2003.

"Norsk Hydro has the vision of being the safest value-creator on the Norwegian shelf. In order to achieve this goal, training is needed," says Stig Stellberg, who refers to himself as head coach in relation to Hydro's culture project. He emphasizes that there is no set formula to ensure that the HES culture will develop in the desired direction.

"When we started this culture project, we thought that we could turn people's behavior upside-down. We now know that this won't work. Through the culture project, however, we address the little things that individuals can change in their everyday work. And when individuals are challenged to change their behavior, then we are on the right track. We don't know if this is the most correct or best path to follow, but we feel that by getting employees to take small steps we are creating movement in the direction of a better HES culture," says Stellberg.

Automatic vs. considered behavior
Ellen Ramvi from Rogaland Research presented the results of a project she has carried out on assignment from a supplier company, where the goal was to strengthen the team spirit among the offshore employees.

Through field work, interviews, etc., she found that enthusiasm surrounding the HES issue was quite low, in spite of the fact that it is in the employees' own best interests to have the safest possible workplaces. One of Ramvi's conclusions was that the focus on HES was driven so much by rules, regulations and procedures that this took away the individual employee's motivation.

"In its eagerness to take responsibility in this field, management has also taken over the responsibility the employees themselves have for their own safety," said Ramvi, thus explaining the title of her speech: "Give us safety back". The feeling of always being "managed" led, among other things, to the employees protecting their own self-respect by not getting involved.

She divided the performance of work into two categories: "automatic behavior", which contributes to increased safety risks through a low level of involvement and self-assessment, and "considered behavior" where the individual feels that he or she has the responsibility for performing his/her work in a manner that ensures the best possible safety.

During the subsequent summary, several people commented on the dilemma between the companies' duty to prepare safe systems and procedures on the one hand and, on the other hand, the desire for the individual employee to have the opportunity of evaluating safety - and that it is expected that the employee will act in a manner that ensures the best possible safety.

Eldar Myhre, group employee representative in AkerKværner, pointed out that the strong focus on bringing down the number of injuries in the petroleum activities had perhaps gone at the expense of other parameters that show a different, and more worrisome trend.

As an example, he noted that while the number of serious accidents has been significantly reduced over the past 20 years, there are many indicators that point towards a working environment that is getting tougher. One example of this is that absence due to occupational illness has increased substantially in recent years.

New conference next year
Focus areas within the field of HES have undergone dramatic development since the petroleum activities started on the Norwegian shelf. In the 1970s there was a lot of attention paid to safety in relation to development of new technology. In the 1980s and 1990s, the management systems took center stage. Now the authorities have stated that management involvement and HES culture will be important commitment areas in the years to come.

This year's conference on HES culture was characterized by the fact that the authorities' focus on HES culture is fairly recent.

"This conference embraced a broad range of topics, and showed that the authorities and the companies have many different ways of dealing with the culture concept. We plan to hold a similar conference again next year, and expect that increased experience will help to ensure that we can identify and highlight good ways of working on HES culture," says Reidar Lindeberg, the NPD's contact for the conference on HES culture.

NPD contact person: Reidar Lindeberg