A Federal Government review of safety in the offshore oil and gas industry has recommended a closer review of design changes, owner's responsibilities and diving; and a greater focus on worker’s mental health.

The Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources yesterday released its offshore oil and gas safety policy review completed in April.

The review found Australia has a “leading practise regulatory framework,” according to the DISER website, but also found areas that needed improvement to ensure the safety of offshore workers.

The safety of an Australian offshore oil and gas facility is the responsibility of the operator that must document their plans in a safety case approved by offshore safety regulator NOPSEMA.

The safety case document is central to how offshore safety is managed in Australia.

Operators are required to update the safety case and resubmit it for approval by NOPSEMA if the safety risk has significantly increased.

However, the DISER review found that operators often made changes to facilities that significantly increased the risk to workers without submitting a revised safety case for NOPSEMA’s approval.

The review recommended safety cases identify all areas critical to safety, and any changes to these areas trigger a review by the regulator.

NOPSEMA should also be involved in concept selection for a new facility so design defects can be addressed early on when it is easier and cheaper.

Owning the safety problem

The review covered the situation when the owner and titleholder contracts another company to operate a facility.

This occurred on the Northern Endeavor oil vessel owned by now-liquidated Northern Oil and Gas Australia and operated by Upstream Production Solutions.

Federal Govt regulates poorly and gets $360M Northern Endeavor clean-up bill
The Northern Endeavor mess started with Woodside paying to rid itself of a rusty ageing asset, ended with a $362 million liability for the Government and in between was a regulatory shambles.

Currently, owners have no direct responsibility for safety “although it is the entity in control of the project and cash flow to the operator.” DISER proposed the owner be responsible for ensuring the operator can and does carry out its duties.

DISER wants operators to ensure health and safety representatives chosen by the workers to receive training. The HSRs should have the power to request operators review safety procedures and put concerns to NOPSEMA.

The review found the COVID-19 pandemic revealed the importance of managing both the physical and mental health of offshore FIFO workers. It proposed the legislated definition of health be expanded to “physical and psychological health” to match the broader definition used in many other safety regimes.

DISER wants operators to manage all factors that can fatigue workers, including sleeping arrangements and long travel times not accounted for as work time. The review also recommended stricter legislative measures to protect workers from discrimination and coercion.

Diving safety a focus

The safety of divers has caused NOPSEMA to act several times over the past decade.

In 2011 a diver working for Technip on the Woodside-operated Wanaea-Cossack oil fields was injured when a high-pressure water blaster broke. Technip was later fined $70,000.

After a NOPSEMA investigation of rescue capabilities for divers working near Chevron’s Wheatstone platform in 2015, Technip was charged, and the matter is still working its way through the legal system.

DOP Subsea is reported to have paid millions of dollars in compensation to three divers who received brain damage while diving for Inpex’s Ichthys project in 2017. The Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions has commenced legal proceedings against DOF Subsea.

The DISER review recommended NOPSEMA have greater powers to request information on diving plans and withdraw approval for dives, and have more time to review the plans of diving companies.

The revised policy framework proposed by the review needs approval by the Federal Government and then DISER will develop it in more detail.

Separate from the DISER review yesterday, NOPSEMSA released new guidance on how operators should manage ageing facilities.


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Main image: Pyrenees Venture oil floating production storage and offloading vessel off the WA coast. Source: BHP.