OHS in the Australian Offshore Petroleum Industry
Occupational health and safety has become an important concept in organizational management due to the many environmental hazards that face organizations. Occupational risks that prevail in organizations have to be minimized as much as possible so as for the employees to work in a safe environment for better delivery. Occupational risks do cause harm to organizational employees that present themselves through physical injuries, maladies and in extreme cases, death. Occupational health risks are more prevalent in active industries like the mining industries that they are in service industries. However, categories of occupational risks vary from one industry to another. The most important thing to note is that these risks prevail in all industries. Australia Offshore Petroleum industry is one of the industries in Australia is an example of industries that have been diagnosed with occupational and safety issues (Australian Government, 2011). This report analyses occupational health and safety in Australia with the major focus on the offshore petroleum industry. The paper gives an overview of the industry and occupational health and safety observance in the industry in the past few years. The analysis also focuses on the legislative and regulatory environment in relation to occupational health and safety. The report also gives analytical views concerning the manner in which the laws on occupational health and safety should be applied to offshore petroleum industry in the country.
Overview of occupational health and safety of the offshore petroleum industry of Australia
Australia has an extensive offshore petroleum industry that is critical to the performance of the Australian economy. Therefore, occupational health and safety is a concern of not only the government of Australia but all Australians. Therefore, the control of the industry is paramount exercise of the Australian government. This is done through the enforcement of regulatory mechanisms to ensure that all safety issues are addressed. The offshore petroleum industry of Australia has often been in the headlines because of occupational health and safety issues that have been prevalent in the industry (Bills and Agostini, 2009).
Occupational risks have been prevalent in the industry, in spite of the presence of regulatory bodies which are required to safeguard and ensure the maintenance of safe working environments in organizations. This could be a pointer to either leakages in occupational health and safety standards in Australia or sub-standard regulatory mechanisms by regulatory organs. The latest incidence in Australian industry is the recent death of employees on Stena Clyde which is one of the offshore oil drilling plants in Australia (NOPSEMA, 2012). The employees were reported to have died on the 20th of August from the accident that occurred at the plant. This is one of the major accidents tom be witnessed in the Offshore petroleum industry of Australia since the 2008 fatal accident that occurred at Karatha Spirit in the year 2008. This can also be argued to be a signal of the impending health and safety issues in the offshore petroleum industry of Australia. Strong incites into this can only be developed from a deeper look into occupational heath and safety issues in the industry (Bills and Agostini, 2009).
The safety of the offshore petroleum industry of Australia: The current state
As earlier noted, the offshore petroleum industry of Australia has been subjected to regulation in order to raise the level of safety of both the external and internal environments. Internal environment is very important since it directly impacts in the people who work in the organizations. These people are responsible in bringing about positive organizational performance. Internal regulation addresses occupational health and safety issues with the ultimate objective being to provide a safe working environment which is either risk free or has minimal health hazards. Occupational health as safety has continued to inform the agenda of the offshore petroleum industry of Australia with many people advocating for the general safety of the industry (Australian Government, 2011). More concerns about health and safety of the offshore industry have ben raised over the last three years because of the work relate deaths that happened in one of the Offshore petroleum plants in Australia in the year 2008. With the increased concern about the safety of the offshore petroleum industry, the regulation of the industry has been more tightened. This has been a precursor to a safety in the industry. With increased voices, the regulatory bodies are forced to be proactive in their mandates or otherwise be sanctioned by the populace (Georgiou, Harrison and Iverson, 2012).
The regulation of the offshore industry operations have been based on policy recommendations that were made by an international team of safety experts on offshore industry operations. These recommendations were made back in the year 2000. The review sought to simplify the regulatory environment which was deemed to be complicated for implementing safety regulations. There were many regulations, acts and directions resulting in too much fragmentation hindering application and implementation. Of the highest concern was the incapacitation of state as well as territory regulators because of the fragmented legislations. The recommendations guided the Australian government in establishing the regulatory body to help in overseeing the regulation of safety in the offshore petroleum industry. This body is known as the National Offshore Petroleum Safety Authority abbreviated as NOPSA (Australian Government, 2011). The body was established in the year 2005 to aid in regulating occupational health and safety in offshore areas. The sanity that has existed in offshore operations is attributed to this regulation body. This together with other regulatory bodies has been responsible for holding a safety environment and is answerable to the government of Australia. The body has been compelling the players in the offshore petroleum industry to adhere to the safety standards that are critical in eliminating risks (Parliament of Australia, 2011).
The number of occupational health risks was brought down in offshore petroleum industry. Only minor fatalities were reported in years that followed the formation of NOPSA. Major occurrences in offshore operations have been seen from the year 2008 where major occupational health threats have occurred in several offshore petroleum plants. Therefore, it can be said with precision that the Australian government has done well in observing occupational health and safety in the offshore petroleum industry. This is corded to the big range or gap in which occupational health and safety issues happen (Georgiou, Harrison and Iverson, 2012).
Safety concerns are addressed in both the offshore and offshore petroleum industries of Australia. However, the regulatory mechanism for implementing OHS differs for onshore and offshore industries. Safety regulation of offshore operations has been harmonized through a national regulator of petroleum which was created to oversee this function. Occupational health and safety regulation are enacted in more controlled environment ion offshore petroleum industry. On the other hand, onshore petroleum operations are regulated by occupational health and safety regimes that are applicable in each of the Australian states and territories.
Many risks have been seen in offshore operations in the recent years prompting legislation to help in enforcing of risk reduction measures in offshore operations. These include the BP Mocondo blowout that took place in the year 2010, The PTTEP AA Montara blowout that happened in 2008 as well as the recent Stena Clyde accident at Victoria Coast. These incidences have painted a negative picture of Australia as concerning the effects they have had on the confidence of the people on the regulation of the offshore industry (Bills and Agostini, 2009).
OHS legislative and regulatory environment for offshore petroleum industry
According to Hunter (2011).The regulation of offshore facilities in Australia is conducted by different regulatory bodies depending on the location of the facility. For firms that are located more than 200 nautical miles away from the sea shore, they are often governed by external legislations. All other facilities which are situated up to 200 nautical miles off the cost of Australia are governed by internal regulators. Occupational health and safety legislation on offshore petroleum operations have been undergoing changes so that they can suit or rather be responsive to the emerging safety cases. This also happened to match the number of offshore plants that have been coming up. The more the number of offshore drills, the higher the capacity of regulation so that all issues appertaining to occupational health and safety are observed by these operators (Parliament of Australia, 2011).
The prevailing legislation on occupational health and safety issues has been born out of many amendments to different pieces of legislation that were developed from early years. Most of the legislation on occupational health and safety used currently in Australia are derived from the offshore petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act of 2006. Subsequent amendments to this act necessitate adjustment in regulatory policy frameworks on occupational health and safety of firms. This piece of legislation spearheaded the regulatory mandate of NOPSA which is now referred to as NOPSEMA. Aspects of environmental management were added to NOPSA to form the NOPSEMA. This was done at the beginning of the year 2012. NOPSEMA has jurisdiction over the all offshore operators that perform their work 200 nautical miles and below from the seashores of Australia. The existing environmental legislation has however remained intact, irrespective of the formation of NOPSEMA and is still distinct from the operational health and safety regime. Therefore, the occupational health and safety regime is still intact (Hunter, 2011).
The primary role of NOPSEMA are entails the regulation of the environment for companies that wants to engage in offshore operations as well those companies that are already operating. This agency ensures that companies undertaking offshore petroleum exploitation comply with the set compliance standards of promoting health and safety within the industry. The agency also ensures that occupational health and safety standard are observed by the companies as they observe other environmental protection obligations. Any new company which wants to engage in offshore operations must receive ratification from NOPSEMA which assesses the capacity of the company to meet the set safety standards. NOPSEMA only has jurisdiction over firma that are operating within a 200 square mile radius. This gives the agency more power because it limits its machinery on a certain number of offshore operators. The budget of the agency becomes more sustainable for engaging the operators so as to enhance best practices (NOPSEMA, 2012).
NOPSEMA is also liable to ensuring that all the operators on offshore petroleum industries become fully answerable and responsible for all the risks that emanate from their plants. This mandate entails the duty to bring to book a company that breaches the environmental as well as organizational health and safety. New operators are bound by the Petroleum Act of 2009 to present their environmental plans to NOPSEMA which assesses the plan and notifies these operators on assessment outcomes. This agency gives opportunities to operators to improve their plans if they are considered to be unsatisfactory according to the standard that are acceptable to the agency. NAPSEMA cuts across all the states and territories of Australia meaning that it has a broader jurisdiction over all the operators in Australia. This is a positive pointer to a more regulated environment because of the absence of conflicts that arise from conflicting policies from regulators. This also paves way for coordination of efforts by both the operators and the government together with the agency so that positive goals of occupational health and safety can be attained (NOPSEMA, 2012).
Harmonization or no harmonization of the policies of OHS laws
A debate has been raging on whether to harmonize the occupational health and safety laws in Australia. The argument is that there is a need to harmonize all OHS legislation so that it can cover all the states as well as territories of Australia including the common waters of Australia that is not bounded by many pieces of legislation. Proponents of the debate base their theses on a number of points. Currently, Australia has two territories and six states meaning thus it is hard to implement legislations touching on similar developments in different dimensions (Australia Retailers Association, 2009). Occupational health and safety laws ought to be communized for all organizations in Australia regardless of the places where organizations are located so long as they are located within the country. This brings ease in application and coordination of policies concerning the legislation. The first supportive point for harmonization of OHS laws is that the exercise will help to reduce the cost of operations of firms. Firms that are operating in either more than one state or territory are forced to incur extra cost of compliance to OHS laws (Australian Department of Commerce, 2012).
According to (Australian Government (2011) organizations operating in different territories are forced to apply forced to acquire several licenses to show their compliance to OHS laws. This means that for each lines that will be acquired, there will be an increase in cost of operation of the firm which further hinders the accomplishment of other activities. This may hinder the ability of implementing the safety standards as stipulated in the laws because most funds are spent on compliance. This is backed by the argument that firms with cross state and cross territory operations are forced to comply with the legislation as practiced in each state or territory of Australia. According to the Australian Department of Commerce, 2012) the implication for this piece of legislation as practiced now is that there are a total of eight sets of legislation. This is derived from the total number of states and territories in the country. To add to this are the federal government and the federal parliament which add to the number of legislation fragmentations to make them nine. This means that these piece or legislation can easily loose objectivity because of the seemingly many interpretations that will be made by the respective authority in implementation. States and territories have sets of other laws which are related to organizational health and safety. These laws focus on specific legal issues on specific activities within the states like mining. With the presence of these sub-legislations, there is a high probability of hindering the implementation of the major sets of laws as carried out in OHS laws (Hunt, 1989).
Occupational health and safety is one of the most crucial issues affecting modern organizations because of the many risks that emanate from exploitation of opportunities by firms. This topic remains elusive in Australia and especially the offshore petroleum industry. This has been fueled by the many health risks that have been predisposed to employees working in the industry. Over the past few years, many accidents have happened in different offshore plants causing an alarm over the safety of employees in offshore petroleum firms operating in the country. Australia has been active in containing the occupational risks that are facing employees working in the offshore petroleum industry by formulating and implementing policies and legislations on health and safety in the country. These pieces of legislations are bearing results but at the same time are faced with a number of challenges concerning implementation. The OHS laws for example are found to be challenging because of they have to be applied differently in different states and territories.
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