Is safety, or safety collaboration, a competitive advantage?

Article published in the Regulator | Issue 1: 2019

Are opportunities being missed for industry to share lessons and learnings from safety-related issues?

NOPSEMA routinely publishes information in the Regulator and facilitates collaborative workshops to share lessons and promote improvement in industry process and personal safety performance. Recent examples include the mobile offshore drilling units (MODU) mooring systems in cyclonic conditions and operational integrity of contracted equipment workshops where participants shared insights and experiences in the spirit of continuous improvement.

However, recent NOPSEMA interactions with facility operators suggest some operators may be missing opportunities to share safety-related issues, approaches and learnings outside of their organisations.

In a recent example, an operator of a new project identified deficiencies in internationally sourced electrical equipment for hazardous areas (EEHA). Some of the equipment was found to allow the ingress of water following particular weather events. Another two operators in Australia also sourced electrical equipment from international suppliers and experienced similar deficiencies with the electrical equipment. However, when NOPSEMA asked the affected operators whether they had sought to discuss these EEHA issues more broadly, in particular with the other facility operators who had built their facilities in the same region, there was little to indicate opportunities to share lessons and insights has been realised. NOPSEMA discovered that each of the facility operators handled the electrical equipment issues in different ways resulting in different outcomes and levels of success.

In another example, an operator was asked during a meeting whether they share safety-related issues/learnings with other operators within Australia’s offshore petroleum industry. The response received was that information was shared by virtue of personnel moving between projects over time and bringing that experience and those learnings with them. While NOPSEMA acknowledges that personnel moving between projects is a valuable but an informal way of information sharing, it is unlikely to be as thorough and efficient as direct sharing between facility operators.

This raises the question of whether some offshore petroleum facility operators treat safety-related information as a competitive advantage and NOPSEMA certainly hopes this is not the case. Safety leadership is paramount and operators are encouraged to openly share their safety-related experiences and learnings broadly with the offshore oil and gas industry. An excellent example of information sharing on safety-related issues occurred during the DrillSafe Forum in September 2018. Ensco shared their experiences and learnings from a dropped object incident involving the drop of an 850 kilogram engine part through a deck hatch to the engine room floor about seven metres below. While this was a significant incident, fortunately it did not result in any injuries. Ensco not only provided details of the actual incident, but openly shared their investigation findings, including the numerous contributing factors which led up to the incident. For more information about the DrillSafe forum see below.

Proactive and transparent collaboration between facility operators, contractors and suppliers demonstrates a commitment to safety stewardship and promoting the petroleum industry’s social-license to operate. It is those that demonstrate social licence traits and behaviours that will ultimately yield a favourable reputation in the eyes of the community and the offshore industry. There is also a moral obligation and a reputational advantage for those operators who have the confidence to take this initiative.

Solutions to safety issues should not be considered a competitive advantage. Facility operators should proactively share information about incidents and raise safety-related challenges in collaborative forums so that the industry can develop safety management systems and strategies that reflect best practice, and continue to reduce the health and safety risks to as low as reasonably practicable.