Norway’s Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) has raised concerns that Equinor’s low manning and frequent use of extended offshore periods for workers is a safety hazard and has ordered the company to find a solution to the issue.

The PSA has ordered Equinor to present a solution by the end of June, after several audits by the watchdog identified management shortfalls in manning and competence at its Norwegian offshore operations.

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The PSA said that, over 2019 and 2020, it consistently identified practices — including overtime patterns and working beyond normal shifts — that raised concerns about occupational health, safe operation and the ability to handle faults, hazards and accidents on Equinor’s facilities.

A PSA spokesman told Upstream that the authority has questioned whether Equinor's plan to use a pool of workers to be sent to different installations and handle high workloads will have the capacity to meet its demands safely.

“The PSA’s view is that the company’s use of extended offshore periods does not accord with the safety regulations,” the spokesman said.

According to the spokesman, the results from the PSA’s supervision activities suggest a persistent shortfall in capacity that must be met by extending offshore work periods.

The normal offshore period for Norwegian offshore workers allows a two-weeks-on and four-weeks-off rotation.

Safety: workers at Equinor's Johan Sverdrup field on board the semisub Ocean Vanguard Photo: OYVIND HAGEN/EQUINOR

Equinor has reduced basic staffing on its facilities as a result of its operational manning 2016-2019 project, which called for resources to meet activities over and above normal operation to be provided from the offshore skilled worker pool (OFS).

“The PSA’s supervisory activities have found that extended offshore periods are regularly used because it has been difficult to secure the necessary resources from the OFS,” the PSA spokesman said.

Such extended periods are also used to cover resource requirements for planned turnarounds and sickness absences.

Workers union Industri Energi (IE) is concerned that Equinor will not act to secure sufficient manning on its offshore installations.

“The main challenge is that the company has reorganised the offshore workforce and reduced manning at the same time, while the workload has not changed. This has increased the risk level,” said Per Steinar Stamnes, leader of IE’s offshore working members at Equinor.

According to Stamnes, the PSA’s order vindicated the union's view.

“The installations and equipment are getting older, and the need for maintenance increases. It is the same with an old car. The older the car, the more maintenance needed," he said.

An Equinor spokesman said the company will follow up on the order.

"Having the right staffing level that reflects the activity we have offshore and with good safety measures is important for Equinor. This is also continuously monitored in Equinor and carefully evaluated at the collaboration arenas at all levels of the company," he said.

According to the spokesman, Equinor will strengthen competence and compliance within specific areas where it has identified gaps.

"As of this quarter, we will start with a verification of compliance with our governing documentation for staffing and competence and analyse the use of extended offshore periods in the last five years," he said, adding that "the purpose of the verification is to uncover any gaps in compliance, and then specify further follow-up actions to close these".