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A JOURNAL FROM THE PETROLEUM SAFETY AUTHORITY NORWAY

Two decades of building trust

 Photo: Anne Lise Norheim
 Photo: Anne Lise Norheim
The trends in risk level in the petroleum activity (RNNP) process is the product of a vision, a dedication and a formidable commitment.
But its birth was anything but auspicious.

The RNNP measures the effect of the industry’s work on safety, and how good the companies are at managing risk. This process celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2021.

In the late 1990s, the members of the recently established Safety Forum disagreed sharply over whether safety was rising or falling.  

This issue prompted long and heated discussions, with the unions convinced that safety was in decline and the employers insisting it had never been better.

As the regulator, the PSA (then part of the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate – NPD) was uncertain about the real picture. 

Systematise  

The Safety Forum, as the most important arena for tripartite collaboration on this issue in Norway’s oil sector, established a project to identify and systematise data on the safety level.  

The aim was to give the parties an answer they could agree on, and thereby provide a tool for information about and management of safety work. 

Many contributors with great expertise on risk and safety took part – operator companies, other petroleum-sector players, government, consultants, scientists and educational bodies.  

Preliminary work began in 1999-2000 and, as mentioned above, the first report could be presented in 2001. It lived up to expectations.  

All sides nodded in agreement when the extensive presentation was laid before them. This collaborative project had succeeded in establishing credible figures and a shared view of reality.  

Safety Forum members could now drop their time- consuming discussions on which way things were headed, and concentrate instead on the facts revealed by the RNNP.  

They also agreed to continue developing the tool and the method.  

The pilot report presented two decades ago was no less than unique. Nothing to equal it is thought to exist either in Norway or internationally – whatever the industry.  

The history of RNNP - 20 years of trust

 

Extended  

The first report looked only at NCS facilities. In 2002, the process was extended to a questionnaire-based survey to determine how offshore workers experienced risk and the safety culture.  

Interviews were also conducted with selected representatives of the parties and other industry specialists.  

The aim was to supplement the picture provided by facts and figures with views and information from the people with personal experience of the realities. 

Since then, the questionnaire-based survey has been conducted every other year. 

Division  

The Storting (parliament) decided in 2004 on a division of the NPD, with the newly established PSA responsible for safety in the petroleum sector and the NPD retaining responsibility for managing oil and gas resources on the NCS.  

In the same year, the PSA was given supervisory authority over safety at Norway’s eight onshore petroleum plants, from Melkøya in the north to Slagentangen in the south-east.  

That meant these units also had to be integrated in the RNNP, and the first overall review of both offshore and onshore activities appeared in 2006.  

Spills  

The process was further extended in 2010, when a separate report on acute spills (AU) was included in the family. This communicates information on incidents, near-misses and assessments of accident risk related to environmental discharges.  

For technical reasons, the RNNP AS overview appears several months later than the rest – usually in September.  

Taken together, the overall annual RNNP package comprises about 450 pages of statistics and takes some 3000 working hours to prepare in the PSA alone.  

Knowledge of risk and what makes the biggest contribution to safety is much higher than 20 years ago, and risk understanding has also greatly improved. A joint effort has yielded good results. Photo: Faksimile fra Stavanger Aftenblad

Attention  

The RNNP reports have attracted great attention from the start, both in the industry and among the Norwegian public.  

They represent the most important source for monitoring how risk is developing in the petroleum sector and how the industry is working on safety.  

These reports form the basis for identifying where the biggest problems lie and thereby how the parties in the industry should work to improve safety – both collectively and at company level.  

Knowledge of risk and what makes the biggest contribution to safety is much higher than 20 years ago, and risk understanding has also greatly improved. A joint effort has yielded good results.  

Disagreement  

Although support for the RNNP as a tool must be regarded as unison today, disagreement also emerges – every year.  

This relates not to the credibility of the data but to which figures, trends and results are the most important, and which perspective should be applied in reading and understanding them.  

Both the big support for the RNNP and the debate between the parties over its interpretation are certain to continue year by year.  

But such controversies also play an important part in attracting attention and commitment to making constant improvements in safety conditions for the petroleum industry. 

From conflict to concord 

Trust between the parties had worn thin before the RNNP process began. Its results have provided a common factual basis and frame of reference for discussion. 

Jan Erik Vinnem is currently a professor emeritus in the department of marine technology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). He has worked on risk analyses in Norway’s petroleum industry for many years, and played a key role in establishing the RNNP process in the late 1990s. Photo: Jan Inge Haga/ Stavanger Aftenblad/NTB

Vinnem has worked on risk analyses in Norway’s petroleum industry for many years, and played a key role in establishing the RNNP process in the late 1990s. 

He is currently a professor emeritus in the department of marine technology at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). 

Vinnem well remembers the mistrust which prevailed in dealings between companies, unions and government on the NCS before the RNNP was launched. 

“This feeling was very pronounced between employers and employees in the second half of the 1990s,” he recalls. 

“So an express goal of the RNNP was to contribute the most objective possible data and its interpretation, which would mean that we could at last stop fighting over what the real safety facts were.” 

Vinnem had produced a statistical study on the risk level, and was approached in 1999 by the Norwegian Petroleum Directorate (NPD) – which then incorporated the PSA.  

He was asked to help find an even better way to exploit all available data, risk analyses and expert assessments in order to be as specific as possible about future threats in the petroleum sector.  

“We used whistleblowing data from the NPD as well as risk analyses,” Vinnem says. “A close dialogue was also pursued with the industry, which then comprised relatively few large companies and units.  

“Agreement was reached on voluntary reporting, and we tailored some formats which meant that we obtained data on near-misses as a basis.”  

Pilot  

Trust between the parties was minimal when the pilot study was presented, so Vinnem will never forget how the results were received.  

“It was almost like a revival meeting. Everyone suddenly agreed that ‘this is how it is – this is the position – now we know that’.  

“So the goal of achieving consensus was absolutely achieved. And I believe it would have been hopeless for all the parties to try to move forward if we hadn’t first sorted out this position.”  

He thinks the agreement largely reflected an awareness that these findings rested on detailed work, inspiring confidence that the facts were as objective as they could be with people involved.  

“So those who claimed beforehand that the safety position was an unimprovable gold standard didn’t get that confirmed. But nor did those who claimed that things were as bad as the 1970s.”  

Both camps nevertheless respected the figures which were presented.  

Unique  

The RNNP survey was then and is still unique in a global context. As far as is known, only the UK has a similar approach – adopted after the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988.  

A tool for systematic data collection about hydrocarbon leaks from facilities on the UK continental shelf was then produced by the British safety authorities.  

Unlike the RNNP, however, this information is not processed and quality assured. It is simply presented unfiltered from what has been reported.  

“Nobody else does the work we do with collected RNNP data, and the method is talked about beyond our frontiers,” reports Vinnem.  

“I think you could say it has become a kind of standard for presenting risk status and trends.”  

Objective  

Quality assurance plays a key role in the RNNP, since the aim is to establish the most objective possible data. Collaboration between the parties in the industry as well as academia and government has also been important for progress.  

“We started from a core group comprising both practical people and more academically oriented participants,” says Vinnem.  

“I think that was important for striking a balance between the need for technically acceptable simplifications and realism.”  

Vinnem believes that the RNNP has meant a lot for safety in the Norwegian petroleum sector.  

“Without it, we might have had much greater disagreement over priorities and would probably have failed to reduce near-misses as much as we have over these years.” 

Key role

Ole Andreas Engen, professor of risk mangagement and societal safety at the University of Stavanger, agrees with this.

specialist in risk management and societal safety, Engen has led several large studies of the safety regime in the oil and gas industry 

These included the tripartite committee which submitted a report on HSE conditions in the industry to the government in 2017.  

He believes the RNNP has played a key role: “Without it, I don’t think there would actually have been any basis for writing an HSE report.  

“The only reason we ultimately managed to arrive at some formulations which everyone could more or less agree on was that we had the RNNP as a starting point.”  

Also known as the Engen report, this document formed the basis for a White Paper on health, safety and the working environment in the petroleum sector which was adopted in 2018.  

When you get an RNNP report which identifies negative or critical trends in the industry, it has an effect, says professor Ole Andreas Engen at the University of Stavanger. Photo: Marie von Krogh

Barometer  

Engen describes the RNNP as a barometer of safety and risk conditions in the oil and gas industry. This tool and its reports also function as an information channel between companies, unions and government.  

The indicators and statistics presented by the process provide a frame of reference for a whole industry. Combined with an agreed factual base, that creates trust.  

In Engen’s view, it helps to make the expectations which the parties have of each other predictable.  

“That can make people more secure, and helps them to know more easily what the other side will have to say during a discussion,” he says.  

Engen points out that a shared factual basis does not necessarily mean people agree or are not cross with each other. But it prevents them stalking off and refusing to cooperate.  

“That’s undoubtedly the most important aspect of the whole RNNP exercise – that you create the terms and basis for discussion and perhaps also a dialogue.  

“In some circumstances, you’re likely to reach agreement. On other occasions, you can establish what the disagreement is fundamentally about.” 

Legitimacy  

Engen maintains that the RNNP has great legitimacy in the industry. When chairing the HSE committee, he saw that the employers had a clear understanding of – and used – the RNNP in their safety mindset.  

That implicitly gives the RNNP an influence on the level of safety, he notes. “When you get an RNNP report which identifies negative or critical trends in the industry, it has an effect.  

“There isn’t a safety vice president in Equinor who would sit and say: ‘no, we don’t believe the RNNP figures, so we’re not taking this seriously’. That would be to commit hara-kiri.  

“The RNNP isn’t a kind of management document, but it also provides signals on whether the PSA’s supervisory strategy is working – and thereby influences government regulation.”  

Unique  

Although Engen acknowledges that employers and employees collaborate all around the world, he says the role played by the Norwegian government in this context is unique.  

That applies particularly in the petroleum sector, where it facilitates collaboration through the Safety and Regulatory Fora and the RNNP.  

“A three-legged stool is only stable when all the legs are in place,” Engen points out.  

He believes the overall collaboration would have looked different if the parties had not possessed a common foundation such as the RNNP to form the basis for their discussions.  

“I’m not saying the tripartite collaboration wouldn’t have functioned without the RNNP, because other mechanisms would certainly have come into play. But this tool is undoubtedly important for it.

Photo: Ole Jørgen Bratland
Photo:
Photo: Gunlaug Leirvik
The RNNP is very important for the industry. It puts safety on the agenda, provides good data, and creates the basis for positive discussion about the level of safety on the NCS and on land. Being able to base such discussion on shared facts is very important. Where we in Equinor are concerned, the RNNP provides an important tool for our improvement efforts. We use its results actively in our Norwegian operations, both internally and in interactions with our suppliers.
The RNNP meant that we went from being in savage disagreement over the realities of HSE on the NCS to being able to come together. That’s allowed the parties to work purposefully together to tackle the challenges. This has meant that it’s safer to work on the NCS and that the social contract between the industry and both the political arena and the nation as a whole has been maintained.
The RNNP is an important instrument for understanding the past and taking the right action for the future – an important arena for the parties in the industry. Having objective feedback to relate to when discussing conditions in the sector and when considering changes and the need for measures is incredibly important. Through the questionnaire-based survey, employees get the chance to report their own experiences, challenges and possible concerns, while government, employers and unions can read in black and white how the level of risk is actually experienced. That’s unique. What’s important now is to ensure even more people respond and that the survey covers as many workers as possible. There’s still room for improvement there – among supplier personnel, for example.