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Health, safety and working environment conditions and trends in the Norwegian petroleum industry

Report from a working group

The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs invited interested parties and government agencies to join a working group in November 2016 for a joint assessment of and discussion on health, safety and working environment conditions and trends in the Norwegian petroleum industry.

Developments in 2015 and 2016 had created a need to put the position of health, safety and the working environment in the petroleum sector on the agenda. The group has been chaired by Ole Andreas Engen, professor of risk management and societal safety at the University of Stavanger.


An important goal for the working group has been to arrive at a representative and agreed picture of the status for health, safety and the working environment in the petroleum industry. Furthermore, the group was to assess what is required to maintain and improve the level of safety while also achieving efficient and economic operation. Health, safety and the working environment in this report mean issues related to major accidents and the working environment offshore and at the onshore plants, and the working group’s discussions have therefore excluded such related subjects as the natural environment, aviation and security. The views of employers, employees and the government authorities concerning status, challenges and possible routes to continued development and improvement will serve as input to a new Report to the Storting (White Paper) on health, safety and the working environment in the petroleum industry.

The working group’s assessments are based on a detailed review of the current health, safety and working environment regulations and regulatory strategy (chapter 2), developments in the petroleum sector (chapter 3), and the status of and trends in the risk picture (chapter 4). The risk picture has been assessed on the basis both of historical data and statistics and of experience and signals.

The working group supports the government’s ambition that the Norwegian petroleum sector shall be a world leader for health, safety and the environment. It agrees that health, safety and the working environment in the Norwegian petroleum industry have developed in a positive direction over time, and that the level of safety in the industry is high. However, developments over the past two years have involved safety challenges and serious conditions. Reference is also made to the fact that the petroleum sector has been affected by change processes in recent years. The working group notes that a development characterised by restructuring and downsizing could pose a challenge to the established collaboration between employers and employees. Indications suggest that cooperation between these parties is being challenged to a greater extent than before, although disagreement prevails between the parties in the working group over how far this collaboration has come under pressure. Views also differ between the parties over whether the trust-based strategy pursued by the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway is fully appropriate, given the present position in the industry.

The working group supports the main features of today’s health, safety and working environment regime. It notes that the orientation of this regime, with its emphasis on performance-based rules, the accountability of the players, and risk- and dialogue-based regulatory supervision, provides opportunities to innovate and choose good solutions. It is this flexibility which provides the degree of latitude in the regime and allows the parties to challenge each other and the government over interpretations and follow-up of parameters and possibilities. At the same time, this latitude has its limits, and it is important that the players have an understanding of and respect for their respective roles and responsibilities. Challenges to and testing of the limits to the degree of latitude could help to put strain on the trust between the players and pressure on the orientation of the regime. Health, safety and the working environment must be maintained at a high level and further developed, while the industry simultaneously needs to cut costs and operate more efficiently. The working group emphasises that measures to enhance efficiency must not be adopted at the expense of the working environment and the level of safety.


On the basis of its discussions, the working group has reached the following general conclusions.

  • The level of health, safety and the working environment in the Norwegian petroleum sector is high. At the same time, safety challenges and serious conditions have arisen in the past few years.
  • Generally speaking, the regime for regulating health, safety and the working environment in the Norwegian petroleum sector functions well and should be continued. However, making good use of the degree of latitude in the regime depends on the three parties having mutual trust in and respect for their respective roles and responsibilities. This requires the companies to follow up their responsibility to look after and continue developing the level of safety. The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway must be a strong and clear regulator. Bipartite and tripartite collaboration is an important cornerstone of the regime, and must be strengthened and further developed.
  • The orientation of the regulations, based on requirements which are generally performance-based in combination with the use of standards, is desirable given that the industry is developing rapidly and that the companies need to adopt the most appropriate technology at any given time. The main orientation of the regulations is robust and should be maintained.
  • Continuous improvement of health, safety and the working environment is a prerequisite and a common goal for the petroleum sector. To ensure efficient operation and continuous improvement, the industry and the government must continuously strive for, learn from and adopt new knowledge and technology.
  • The RNNP survey represents the most important foundation for a common understanding of reality and for communication concerning trends in risk level in the petroleum activity. The parties in the industry must continue to support work on and continued development of this survey.

In chapter 6.2, the working group presents a number of more specific recommendations. These proposals include particular follow-up in collective arenas and by the parties with a view to learning lessons and improving the development of bi/tripartite collaboration, sharing knowledge and developing expertise about the regulatory regime. Dissenting comments from certain members of the group are presented in chapter 6.3.

The full report is only available in Norwegian: «Helse, arbeidsmiljø og sikkerhet i petroleumsvirksomheten» (PDF)