A series of disasters in the offshore oil and gas industry in the 1980s led to a major change in regulatory policy regarding offshore safety. Prior to that time, regulations detailing prescriptive requirements focussed on control of activities in the field. These were replaced by a risk-based form of self-regulation in which operating companies are required to make a case for safety that demonstrates risk to workers is as low as reasonably practicable – the ‘safety case’ approach.Despite the widespread adoption of this regulatory approach in Europe and Australia (and in other industries in these and other countries), firm evidence of its effectiveness has proven to be elusive. Social science analysis of serious accidents continues to show that issues such as leadership, organisational structures, separation of functions, judgement, experience and professionalism of personnel play a major role in accident causation and yet these issues are ignored in safety regulation that focuses on the use of technical risk management techniques.Using the Montara blowout as a case study, this paper makes the case for inclusion of social science aspects into regulation of safety in the offshore oil and gas industry, showing that this change is likely to improve safety and is also not inconsistent with the safety case concept. There is a developing consensus that safety culture should be included in offshore safety regulation but this is yet to extend to a framework as to how culture might be addressed or even a common definition of the meaning of the term safety culture. This paper proposes a different approach where issues related to people and organisations can be incrementally included in safety regulation based on factors known to impact upon safety performance.
Hayes, Jan, 2012, WP 84 - A new policy direction in offshore safety regulation, National Research Centre for OHS Regulation, Canberra