Part 2: Safety No. 1 priority

Ashley
Ashley Fitzpatrick
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Strong powers held by chief safety officer, at least for now

The Offshore Helicopter Safety Inquiry was established by the CNLOPB. In his findings, inquiry head retired justice Robert Wells called for the creation of a board, separate from the CNLOPB, responsible for offshore safety. The provincial government has committed to working with the federal government to amend the Atlantic Accord Acts to see it done. — Telegram File Photo

Second in a six-part series

 

It might be argued  the most powerful position within the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board (CNLOPB) would be that of chief safety officer.

No vessel or rig enters the jurisdiction without his sign-off, no work moves ahead without his say and he maintains the ability to halt a project — full stop — at any time, even without the board’s approval.

Yet the position and the work of the safety department would be shipped out, should an independent offshore safety agency be established.

The CNLOPB established the Offshore Helicopter Safety Inquiry following the crash of Cougar 491 and the death of 17 of the 18 people on board. The inquiry, led by retired justice Robert Wells, resulted in 29 recommendations — one being the establishment of a board, separate from the CNLOPB, responsible for safety in the offshore environment.

The recommendation runs contrary to the findings of retired justice T. Alex Hickman from the inquiry he led following the Ocean Ranger disaster. In that report, Hickman repeatedly stated a “single regulatory agency,” as the CNLOPB is today, is preferred. With it, he stated, you could avoid “jurisdictional jealousies, administrative overlaps and lack of co-ordination.”

Looking outside of Newfoundland and Labrador, regulation is mixed.

Yet the United States, having been through the Macondo blowout in the Gulf of Mexico, has a separate safety regulator. Australia, following a similar blowout in its jurisdiction, albeit one without loss of life, has established a separate safety regulator.

Establishing a separate safety board is a legislative decision, one that will require years of work between the provincial and federal governments. It is not within the CNLOPB’s power.

It was within the board’s power to revamp its internal structure — separating technical safety (engineering, drill work, “downhole safety”) from the human safety aspect.

The separation sent former chief safety officer and engineer Howard Pike to head up the new, technical department of operations.

It meant a new chief safety officer was needed.

“We had people around the world apply,” CNLOPB deputy CEO David Wells told The Telegram. Ultimately, the board selected Dan Chicoyne, a former chief accident investigator with the Royal Canadian Air Force.

Chicoyne — like other staff and the appointed board — will not agree or disagree with the CNLOPB being cleaved to create a separate safety board.

However, in speaking to The Telegram, he and other staff regularly noted the ease of their cross-departmental work and their ability to have spot discussions relevant to safety. In other words, the convenience of having everything under one roof.

When it comes to issuing an authorization for work offshore, representatives of all departments convene to discuss the documentation submitted by the oil companies.

“It’s not just me. It’s everybody in this building that gets together — the folks in operations, the folks in benefits, the folks everywhere. We get together, we look at the whole project holistically and we say, what operation queries do we have? What safety concerns?” Chicoyne said.

 

Planning and oversight

The safety department consists of five (soon to be seven) safety officers under Chicoyne.

They take about a year to train, even with backgrounds in safety and/or oil and gas.

“We verify that operators have appropriate safety plans in place, we verify through audits and inspections that they’re following those plans and we verify through compliance actions that, if they’re deviating from those plans, any deviations are corrected and we bring them back into the straight and narrow,” he said.

“Depending on the size of the project, we start this 12 to 24 months before they even start their project.  … If they’re going to bring a new rig in here, not less than a year before we’ll start looking at that rig,” he said.

Oil companies are required to have safety plans approved by the board before they begin work. They are also required to have installations, equipment and personnel that meet provincial and federal regulations and the standards of relevant third-party certifying agencies (like Lloyd’s Register).

“Sometimes (operators) come in a little late and we’ll take a look at it and assess it and determine, yeah, we can get (a work approval) done in that time or no we can’t. Again, it falls back on to them,” Chicoyne said.

“If you come in late, then we can’t guarantee. … I can’t guarantee you’re going to be (working offshore) in July if you only came to me in March. But then, that’s your problem.”

 

Inspection and enforcement

Safety officers schedule drop-ins at each production installation three to four times a year. They call ahead, checking conditions at the destination and allowing paperwork to be gathered.

Safety assessments can include review of: the safety management system, risk assessments, maintenance logs, training certifications and qualification of personnel, the command structure, the physical environment, operational procedures and onboard equipment.

“When we receive a complaint it gets reviewed by one of our safety officers and then they track it down until the complaint is closed,” Chicoyne said.

“If we can’t go back directly to the person that made the complaint, we just publish this was the complaint, this is what we found and then they can read it on their own website or on the bulletin board.”

Postings are viewed by joint occupational health and safety committee members, who make available to the board minutes of their monthly meetings.

There are monthly reports and quarterly meetings with operators, where outstanding issues can be raised.

A database of complaints, incident reports and investigations is regularly reviewed for trends.

Where enforcement is required — or “compliance action” as Chicoyne calls it — safety officers can issue written warnings or orders to cease operations. The board has the power to then suspend or revoke an operator’s licence, though Chicoyne said he is not aware of any local case that has gone that far.

 

Reporting and transparency

In the case of an incident, news can reach shore through crew members, the coast guard, fishermen, response personnel and other means. Chicoyne said the board will take the time it needs to get accurate information before it reports to government or the media.

“I don’t want to try to make a guess because my guess could be wrong, and that damages the credibility of the board,” he said.

“If there’s ever a delay, it’s not because we’re trying to hide it or keep it from you. It’s because we’re trying to be as accurate as possible.”

Operators must notify the CNLOPB within 24 hours. They then have 21 days to file a followup report that includes root cause and resolution — or so far as it is understood to that point.

At any point during an incident, inspection, investigation or audit, Chicoyne has the power to shut down the operation or take over and direct response action — a power granted to the chief safety officer under the legislation.

What might happen to those powers if an independent board is created remains one of the many questions left for the legislators considering the change to settle.

 

afitzpatrick@thetelegram.com

 

Tuesday: safeguarding the environment

Organizations: Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, The Telegram

Geographic location: Newfoundland and Labrador, United States, Gulf of Mexico Australia

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