THE Senate inquiry into offshore worker safety has issued a swag of recommendations, including more unannounced safety inspections by the regulator and a “significant” increase in penalties for safety breaches.
The report has been “welcomed” by the offshore regulator, the National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA), and “applauded” by the Electrical Trades Union.
The inquiry included a sitting in Sale in July, where union representatives and former offshore workers gave evidence.
The report details ways to improve worker safety, by allowing more access and unannounced inspections from regulators, and recommends standardising legislation with other jurisdictions, including onshore workers.
A NOPSEMA spokesperson said the inquiry was an opportunity to highlight the “complex and technical nature of the offshore oil and gas industry”.
“The final report for the inquiry into the work health and safety of workers in the offshore petroleum industry by the Senate Education and Employment References Committee, is comprehensive and provides opportunities to examine regulatory approaches applied under the current legislative framework for the offshore oil and gas industry,” the spokesperson said.
“NOPSEMA acknowledges the issues raised by both the unions and industry through the inquiry, and has been working with both industry and the unions to address their various concerns.
“For example, since 2015, NOPSEMA has held bilateral meetings with the ACTU and their affiliate unions multiple times each year.
“In addition, NOPSEMA meets with unions at their request, and makes both senior executives and inspectors available for such meetings.
“NOPSEMA also participates in industry-led dialogue forums and presents at major industry events and conferences.
“NOPSEMA will continue to engage with unions and industry on workforce matters and identify opportunities to enhance approaches to managing workplace health and safety.”
The Electrical Trades Union, which provided evidence labelled “anecdotal” by the government senators who wrote the dissenting report, said livelihoods were threatened or terminated if workers tried to raise safety issues offshore.
Organiser Peter Mooney said he was still extremely concerned, and noted it was almost 20 years since the 1998 explosion at Longford which changed many regulations for onshore workers.
“It is the one industry that our members are leaving because the safety near-miss incidents are occurring too frequently, and because no job is worth losing your life for,” he said.
“If the public knew, for example, how many unreported fires were started by faults on offshore platforms, or in an onshore processing plant, there would be a huge outcry that more isn’t being done.
“The age and condition of many offshore platforms and processing plants, some of which are reaching 50 years old, could easily cause another explosion, threatening lives and supply.
“The committee’s recommendations are probably not enough to prevent this happening, but it’s a good step in the right direction.”
An Esso spokesperson said safety was more than just a priority, it was a core value and an integral part of the company’s culture and fundamental to its business.
“All of our employees and third-party contractors have the responsibility to work safely, regardless of job function,” they said.
“We actively encourage our workforce to report any safety concerns without fear of retribution, so we can identify and prevent incidents before they occur and apply these learnings across all of our operations to ensure a safe workplace for all.
“Regulation is important for our industry as it guides behaviour and how we work.
“We have systems in place for reporting and we also have workplace health and safety representatives located across our operations, including our offshore facilities.”
The committee’s comments reflected surprise at some aspects of the industry, including the low number of unannounced inspections, the different jurisdictions occasionally contradicting each other, and the lack of bite NOPSEMA sanctions appear to have.
One aspect was the list of health and safety representatives, which operators did not have to send to NOPSEMA — this meant that inspectors did not know who the representatives were or their qualifications, and the committee was “convinced” having a list was warranted.
It also called for workforce representation on the NOPSEMA board, expressing surprise that the current board only included employee and industry representatives and labelling it “disturbing”, though dissenting government senators wrote anyone could join the board.
The next step involves the Minister for Resources, Matt Canavan and the Department of Industry, Innovation and Science, which will respond to the report.
“NOPSEMA will review all findings and recommendations of the inquiry’s report and examine how we can ensure the regime is working as effectively as possible under the current legislative and policy framework,” a spokesperson said.