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Honestly speaking

The report from the Office of the Auditor General on the PSA’s follow-up of HSE contained a hefty dose of criticism. Director general Anne Myhrvold responds to key issues raised in its wake.

Published: 02 April 2019
Text: Inger Anda
Photo: Marie von Krogh

Which points in the report do you consider the most serious?

It’s tough to read that the Auditor General, in the cases it has looked at, feels our supervisory practice has a limited impact on safety work by the companies.

From individual episodes it’s looked at, it also concludes that our supervisory methodology doesn’t help to uncover serious safety challenges.

We’ve spent time seeking to understanding the grounds for these assertions.

We’ll be working purposefully to demonstrate that this picture isn’t representative for us as a government agency. It’s now up to us to change this perception.      

At the same time, it’s important that we make it even clearer what independent responsibility the companies have for safety work, and what our responsibility comprises.

Do you find the criticism to be unjustified?

It’s valuable to be audited. That goes for us as well. And it’s instructive. We see that the Auditor General has selected some cases which aren’t necessarily representative either of the industry or of our work, but which nevertheless form part of the overall picture.

So I think it’s important that we carefully assess the views in the report and work to correct things which aren’t working well enough.

We won’t waste energy arguing over the Auditor General’s choice of cases, or the conclusions it has drawn. We’ll be looking ahead.

How does this report affect the PSA’s room for manoeuvre?

In many ways, it helps to strengthen this. We can, for instance, be even more conscious of the way we use the powers delegated to us by the ministry.

Combined with the signals in the latest HSE White Paper, we see Norwegian society now has a clear expectation that we’ll use our enforcement powers in a clearer way and enforce the regulations more firmly than before.

However, it’s important for us to use the right enforcement powers. Dialogue can often get the companies to correct nonconformities more quickly than formal orders and reactions.

Our goal is that the petroleum industry operates prudently at all times. This represents the most important consideration for us as a regulator, rather than how many orders we’ve imposed.

What specific changes have the criticism led to?

Many of the conclusions in the report coincide with the signals in last year’s HSE White Paper. We’ve therefore worked for a good while on firming up and clarifying the way we work.

We’re now demanding better documentation from the companies about how they’re closing nonconformities, and we’ll conduct our own verification where necessary.

We’ve also become more conscious about the use of our enforcement powers, such as orders, and are starting to see results from that.

Work is also being done to measure the effect of our supervision, including a user survey to secure more information about the way we can act more firmly here.

How will the companies notice the changes?

They’ll see a stronger PSA over time, and find we’re setting stricter requirements, demanding better documentation and checking that nonconformities have been closed.

We’ll emphasise clearly what responsibility rests with the companies themselves at all times. And we’ll require the industry and the companies to take responsibility for continuous safety improvements.

The unions were among those who demanded an administrative audit of the PSA. Why so, and how do you rate your relationship with them today?

When the slump hit the industry with full force, it contributed to pressure on, discussions with and frustration among unions – particularly in their bipartite relations with the employers.

Part of this irritation was also directed at us. A number of employees were dissatisfied with the support they received from us on thorny issues, and the climate was difficult for a time.

The position is different today. I feel we largely have a very good dialogue with the organisations, and that the unions feel they are included and heard.

That doesn’t mean we always agree, but we respect each other’s views and positions. That’s also how it should be.

Has the PSA been naive and trusted too much in the companies’ own safety efforts?

If the government doesn’t trust the companies, we’ll find ourselves in a very difficult position. So I wouldn’t say it’s naive to rely on the companies – we should and must do so.

The companies have the overall responsibility because they own the risk and manage all safety work in their own activities. Our supervision only supplements their internal control.

This is a basic principle in the petroleum industry. That said, the companies must demonstrate that they’re worthy of the trust placed in them – every day, and over time.

Can we still base our safety regime on trust?

Norway’s safety regime relies heavily on trust – and on responsibility. Unless we as the regulator can rely on the companies, the model will collapse. Many other areas of Norwegian society apply the same logic, too.

We have good reason to trust the companies in our industry. The big picture shows that they’re responsible and competent, and comply with the regulatory requirements.

However, we’ve seen some exceptions recently, and that’s a serious matter. I’m thinking particularly of the position with Goliat.

Ultimately, the whole industry can be hit by a company failing to respect and understand the Norwegian model and the values it builds on.

These exceptions are so rare and special that I see no reason for general concern. But it’s very important to learn from the cases which have challenged the regime so that the industry can make a collective effort to avoid such conditions in future.

The Storting (parliament) backed the Norwegian model in the HSE White Paper. But has the time come to start a process for revising today’s safety regime?

Our present system was created in the mid-1980s, drawing on incidents, developments and experience in the early years of the petroleum sector. It’s been reinforced over the years, and has shown an ability to cope with many upheavals and major changes.

The model has been analysed and attacked a number of times, but has always survived. The Auditor General also supports the model, even if it criticises Equinor among others for failing to fulfil its responsibilities in all circumstances.

Taken together, I don’t believe the time is ripe for a reassessment. The regime functions well, providing all the parties and players understand, use and respect it. But it must be continuously maintained and developed to function as intended.

Auditor General’s conclusions

- In the cases investigated, the PSA’s supervisory practice has had limited effect on follow-up of HSE by the companies.

- Individual episodes show that the PSA’s supervisory methodology fails to help uncover serious safety challenges.

- The companies do not always close regulatory nonconformities after an audit, and the PSA is not always good enough at checking that this is done.

- The PSA is too slow to take firm enforcement action when necessary, and does not investigate well enough to determine whether the companies are obeying its orders.

- The PSA generally follows up incidents and whistleblowing reports well.

- The PSA gave consent for using the Goliat platform without this being acceptable in safety terms.

- The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs does not secure relevant management information on the PSA’s effectiveness, or check that the PSA is discharging its responsibility for ICT security well enough.

The report from the Office of the Auditor General was published on 15 January 2019.