A Step change for safety

After one year as Chief Operating Officer of DNV's Division Americas and Sub-Saharan Africa, Elisabeth Tørstad takes a deep breath. 2010 was a tough year for many managers and regulators in the oil and gas industry. The Deepwater Horizon accident moved health, safety and environment to the top of the public agenda. And now, everyone is redrawing their risk picture.

"DNV's core competence is risk management and, not surprisingly, we have been heavily engaged with many activities arising from the Macondo Well blowout and Deepwater Horizon disaster," says Elisabeth Tørstad, adding. "This truly opened many eyes to the importance of, and need for, professional risk management to deal with potential accidents and their consequences. Here, 11 lives were lost, the largest oil spill in US history has an unknown environmental impact and billions of dollars have been spent."

She notes that many more DNV customers are now asking "could this happen to us?" "And," she quickly point out, "DNV has been helping our customers identify, assess and manage their operational risks for many years." Ms Tørstad further explains that DNV has a culture of deeper thinking, especially in new ways, and developing standards, tools and services based upon lessons learned from almost 150 years of industry experience. Throughout this period, technology has advanced at an increasing rate each year as industry has moved into new frontiers. Also, as DNV has grown globally, so has its broad experience in many different industries and regulatory regimes throughout the world.

So, how can DNV share this accumulated knowledge for the benefit of society, industry and regulators? "Well," Ms Tørstad begins, "A simple answer would be to point to our position paper on what we firmly believe are the key aspects for an effective offshore safety regime. The paper draws on what we have learned over many years, the best regulatory practices and the best industry practices. In daily practice, we share our accumulated knowledge through all of our services, our standards, our recommended practices and our tools."

Position Paper

2011.6.22-Torstad!!!.jpg"Now, here is one of our key points in our position paper," Ms Tørstad offers. "Generally, the regulatory response to an accident is a very specific set of requirements or prescriptive regulations. We propose a blend of prescriptive regulations and performance based regulations.

Prescriptive regulations set the minimum requirements and performance based regulations provide a means for industrial development - they don't set a minimum requirement, they require that a performance goal is the minimum standard. Prescriptive regulations are static. Performance based regulations allow for new activities and the use of new technologies - with a full understanding of the risks."

Equally important, this blend of regulations makes the responsibilities of the owner and regulator crystal clear. She continues: "Not only do prescriptive regulations set the minimum standards, but they also establish an unintended ceiling at, or just above, the bare needs for safety. The responsibility for compliance is then often placed on the regulator to ensure that the minimum requirements were met.

Performance based regulations, however, require the owner to state how they will minimise or mitigate risks specific to a specific facility. We do not believe that adding additional oversight or creating more regulatory agencies are necessary to increase safety, but we steadfastly believe that a clear description of the roles and responsibilities for the owner and regulator is essential."

Step Change

She also stresses that a step change for safety is possible. "Simple incremental improvements are not good enough," she says, adding, "We have achieved these step changes in occupational health and safety and I know that we can do it for major accidents as well."

It is clear that the public expects a much better understanding and management of the risks by many industries now, especially offshore drilling. Ms Tørstad continues: "Here is an interesting fact. Even when full risk assessments are made during the design and construction of offshore facilities, the operators on the rig do not know what key barriers, such as technical devices or operating procedures, must be in place or strictly followed to minimise the risks or prevent accidents from happening.

So, we propose equal focus on technical, operational and organisational considerations. Quite simply, the best risk assessment is of no value if the operator on the deck plate does not know what must be in place and operational."

2011.6.22-Torstad!.jpgIn a closing remark, she points out that she offered a few insights and key points of DNV's Offshore Safety Regulatory Regime position paper. Then, her eyes light up as she say, "What I really want people to remember is that our position paper is just a concise summary of essential, or key elements, for an offshore safety regime. There is much more that we have done, and can do, in risk management.

DNV has genuine risk management strengths in risk and consequence modelling. For example, we can calculate the risk of a blowout event when different safety barriers and technology are used. We can also calculate the environmental impact based upon seasonal variations, or locations, such as the Arctic. Ultimately, we help companies choose the right barriers and mitigation strategies to address the risks. Clearly, both the public and industry truly want to have a better knowledge and understanding of risks."

Elisabeth Torstad

Text: Blaine Collins

This article is an extract from DNV Forum no. 1-2011