Oil and gas in­dus­try can build rep­u­ta­tion for safety per­for­mance

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Resources - Keith Orchi­son

THE up­stream oil and gas in­dus­try is a tough work­ing en­vi­ron­ment. The an­nual death toll in its em­ploy around the world in the past two years has av­er­aged 100 — but Aus­tralian op­er­a­tions have been fa­tal­ity free and in­dus­try chief ex­ec­u­tives are pledged to keep it that way.

Belinda Robin­son, Aus­tralian Pe­tro­leum Pro­duc­tion & Ex­plo­ration As­so­ci­a­tion chief ex­ec­u­tive, says a key ob­jec­tive is to build a rep­u­ta­tion for the lo­cal in­dus­try as a global safety leader.

We are very aware that our com­mu­nity li­cence to op­er­ate de­pends on out­stand­ing health, safety and en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment,’’ she says.

AP­PEA re­ports that 2005 and 2006 were land­mark years for the Aus­tralian up­stream oil and gas in­dus­try in safety per­for­mance. In 2005 the in­dus­try achieved its sec­ond-low­est to­tal re­portable in­ci­dent fre­quency rate and then pro­duced a 27 per cent im­prove­ment last year, a record.

Robin­son adds that the Aus­tralian up­stream oil and gas in­dus­try’s safety per­for­mance com­pares very favourably with other in­dus­tries in this coun­try.

Out of 21 do­mes­tic busi­ness sec­tors, only the fi­nance and in­sur­ance in­dus­tries had a bet­ter safety per­for­mance than AP­PEA mem­bers in 2005 and 2006.

None­the­less, she ac­knowl­edges, safety data avail­able from Bri­tain, North Amer­ica and Nor­way, where there are safety regimes sim­i­lar to Aus­tralia, show that the in­dus­try here can do bet­ter.

Over­all, around the world there were 84 fa­tal­i­ties in the oil and gas in­dus­try in 2005 and 115 in 2006, when there was a 23 per cent in­crease in hours worked as a re­sult of the world-wide boom in pe­tro­leum ac­tiv­ity.

‘‘ The Aus­tralian per­for­mance was the more mer­i­to­ri­ous,’’ says Robin­son, ‘‘ when ac­count is taken of the skills short­age in pe­tro­leum work­ers at a time of ris­ing de­mand for skilled peo­ple and a large in­crease in the hours worked in the in­dus­try.’’

How­ever, chief ex­ec­u­tives are far from sat­is­fied. Meet­ing in Perth last month 30 CEOs from ex­plo­ration, pro­duc­tion and con­tract­ing busi­nesses pledged to pur­sue a still stronger im­prove­ment in per­for­mance.

They set the in­dus­try an ob­jec­tive of re­duc­ing in­ci­dents by 25 per cent a year in the near term, and agreed to adopt as a safety as­pi­ra­tion that they will work to­gether to avoid any­one be­ing harmed.

Robin­son says the com­mit­ment is made in the knowl­edge that the in­dus­try will con­tinue to strug­gle with the im­pacts of the na­tional and global skills short­age, as well as a sharp rise in in­dus­try ex­plo­ration and de­vel­op­ment ac­tiv­ity.

‘‘ With less ex­pe­ri­enced work­ers need­ing to be re­cruited at a time of high ac­tiv­ity, there are sig­nif­i­cant safety chal­lenges for the in­dus­try,’’ she con­cedes.

‘‘ The sit­u­a­tion has been com­pounded by the large in­crease in con­struc­tion projects since 2005 be­cause this is the area where most safety in­ci­dents oc­cur.’’ The prob­lem is also ex­ac­er­bated by the move­ment of younger peo­ple into the oil and gas sec­tor work­force. ‘‘ Young peo­ple of­ten seem con­vinced that they’re in­vin­ci­ble,’’ says Robin­son, ‘‘ and that makes them vul­ner­a­ble around heavy ma­chin­ery. Add in­ex­pe­ri­ence to the mix and it is easy to see why first-year ap­pren­tices are of­ten the vic­tims of safety in­ci­dents.’’

Part of the so­lu­tion, she says, is for the in­dus­try to a de­velop a uni­ver­sal na­tional safety in­duc­tion pro­gram, a task now be­ing pur­sued, — but com­pa­nies also need to fo­cus on ac­tiv­i­ties spe­cific to their cir­cum­stances.

As an ex­am­ple of com­pany ac­tiv­ity she cites Wood­side En­ergy’s peer lead­er­ship cam­paign launched at its Kar­ratha gas plant in West­ern Aus­tralia. The site em­ploys 50 ap­pren­tices and trainees and has se­nior ap­pren­tices guid­ing their less ex­pe­ri­enced col­leagues — of­ten straight out of school — in how to avoid haz­ards.

The scheme, along with other train­ing ac­tiv­i­ties, has seen lost-time in­ci­dents cuts to only one in 2002 and none since.

The in­dus­try is also work­ing closely with the fed­eral Gov­ern­ment, which in­au­gu­rated a new safety regime for the sec­tor in 2005, ad­min­is­tered through the Na­tional Off­shore Pe­tro­leum Safety Author­ity, set up to reg­u­late and pro­mote safety per­for­mance.

The es­tab­lish­ment of NOPSA is strongly sup­ported by AP­PEA and its mem­ber com­pa­nies, says Robin­son, and they are work­ing co­op­er­a­tively on a num­ber of safety ini­tia­tives. Oil & Gas spe­cial re­port — in to­day’s pa­per

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