Safety case approach

There is a public expectation that risks from major industrial activities, such as offshore petroleum operations, will be regulated and controlled. The safety regulator provides 'independent' assurance to society, governments and industry that companies have identified the risks to health and safety and have put appropriate measures in place to control these risks. This 'control' can be exercised in a variety of ways, from a 'licence to operate' regime at one end of the spectrum to 'safety case regime' at the other.

Legislation and the safety case approach

Up until the early 1990s, the offshore petroleum industry in Australia was regulated by a mixture of State and Commonwealth legislation. This legislation prescribed specific laws that had to be complied with. In practice, it was the regulator that identified what was safe or not for the industry. Rapid changes in technology and operations meant that legislation and regulation were constantly 'catching up'.

However, in the years following the 1988 Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea, Australia carefully considered what lessons it could draw from this disaster. Piper Alpha resulted in 167 deaths and substantial financial losses to the UK industry and Government. It was decided that Australia should introduce the safety case approach, which is underpinned by the objective based Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Safety) Regulations 2009 (OPGGS).

The safety case regime

Objective based (or goal setting) regimes, including the safety case regime, are based on the principle that the legislation sets the broad safety goals to be attained and the operator of the facility develops the most appropriate methods of achieving those goals. A basic tenet is the premise that the ongoing management of safety is the responsibility of the operator and not the regulator.

The Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Safety) Regulations 2009 (OPGGS) regulations set out the requirements for the contents of safety cases. A safety case for a facility must comply with OPGGS regulations.