A raft of regulations came into force in the early 1990s following the recommendations of Lord Cullen's report into the Piper Alpha disaster which occurred in 1998.

One of the most fundamental concepts which was introduced in 1992 was the safety case.

The current regulations provide that a safety case must be approved by the Health & Safety Executive ("HSE") prior to the commencement of any offshore activities.

In practice operators can take months to agree the terms of their safety case with the HSE which can have an impact on operations.

With a view to maintaining safety standards and ensuring that the safety case regime remains workable in an ever-changing industry, members of the offshore industry took part in a consultation process in relation to the safety case regulations.

Following the consultation, new regulations governing safety cases have now been introduced to replace the existing 1992 regulations.

The Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations 2005 are due to come into force on 6 April 2006.

The most significant changes will be as follows:-

  • Operators will be required to send to the HSE an early design notification when establishing a new production installation.
  • It will be necessary for operators to carry out a thorough review of their safety case at least every five years or as directed by HSE.
  • There is a general obligation on licence holders to ensure that any party appointed as operator has the capability of fulfilling their legal responsibilities for health and safety in addition to ensuring the usual technical and financial capabilities. Also the licence holder is entitled to take reasonable steps to ensure that such responsibilities are fulfilled.
  • Combined operations safety cases which are required if, for example, a drill rig is involved in drilling operations adjacent to (and perhaps attached to) an offshore installation - will no longer be required. Instead parties will be required to submit a notification to the HSE within a strict timescale but parties will not require to seek HSE acceptance.
  • A statutory right of appeal to the Secretary of State for the Department of Work and Pensions against an HSE decision not to accept a safety case will be introduced
  • The Offshore Installations (Safety Representatives and Safety Committees) Regulations will be amended in order to extend the consultation with safety representatives so that in addition to preparing the safety case, the safety representative will also be involved in the review and revision of a safety case on an ongoing basis.

The aim of the new regulations is to reduce bureaucracy, increase the number of offshore visits for the HSE and extend the role of the safety representative. In effect the safety case will become a more dynamic document managed by the safety representative and the HSE will have an increased "hands-on" role in monitoring health and safety offshore.

The HSE have indicated that they will provide guidance early in 2006 on the implementation of the regulations.

Until then it remains to be seen how onerous, financially or operationally, it will be to ensure compliance with existing safety systems. Also there will continue to be provisions open to interpretation, for example, what will constitute the "reasonable steps" of a licence holder in ensuring that the appointed operator complies with safety obligations?

As with the existing safety case regulations, non-compliance may result in criminal prosecution and, if convicted, criminal sanctions may be levelled at the corporate body and/or the individuals involved.

A full copy of the Offshore Installations (Safety Case) Regulations 2005 SI No.205/3117 can be viewed at www.ospi.gov.uk

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