“If we want to help ensure that innovative digital solutions achieve their potential, we must be concerned with how humans can work effectively in collaboration with the new technology,” said Linn Iren Bergh at the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA).

She was presenting the PSA’s experience from supervising the development and application of new digital solutions to members of the Human Factors in Control (HFC) Forum in early May.

“This means that development of the technology must be human-centred and that research-based knowledge about human performance must be included in all phases of digitalisation projects,” she told the forum.

The latter is a specialist network for professionals working on issues related to human factors, including organisational aspects, cognitive abilities and physical ergonomics. The PSA is a member, along with a number of petroleum companies, educational and research institutions and other government agencies.

The subject for the forum’s most recent meeting was the need for knowledge and capacity in relation to the green shift and to the increased level of automation and digitalisation. This fits well with the PSA’s main issue for 2022, which is Capacity and competence – the key to safety.

Issues related to new areas for sourcing energy are also relevant for the petroleum sector, observes Bergh, and says this was reflected in the discussions at the HFC Forum.

“We see that changes in the content and conduct of work can create a need and a requirement for updating knowledge and expertise related to the potential consequences for the working environment and major accident risk,” she says. This applies for personnel, system designers, safety delegates and leaders. Digital expertise will be important not only for developing, understanding and handling technology, but also for protecting systems adequately against undesirable incidents.”

Increased digitalisation generally imposes greater responsibility on designers to understand the context in which the technology will be used, she notes.

System designers may unintentionally develop systems and conditions which are not tailored to human capabilities, or which fail to take account of major accident risk. Experience has shown that a gap between the properties of technology and human capabilities can create hazards.

“In future, it will therefore be important to work across disciplines and to ensure that designers, for example, have sufficient expertise about human capabilities and limitations as well as about safety in an industry with a major accident potential.”