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Practical proposals for improving the Department of Labour’s approach to high hazard industries

 

Recommendation one: Enhance the Department's focus, capacity and capability to deal with high hazards

General observations

High hazard activities are, by definition, activities that are associated with an inherent risk of catastrophic failure and where the steps necessary to manage safety are highly complex. In order to support its work with complex and risky high hazard industries, the Department must maintain specialised resources - specifically inspectors with specialised technical and professional expertise - to work with these industries.

High hazard work requires a higher level of attention and interaction than other places of work. Accordingly, the Department needs to maintain a sufficient pool of available resources to appropriately service these industries. However, because it only has a limited budget and inspectorate, the Department has to balance the amount of resource it puts towards high hazard industries in relation to other priority areas, such as the sectors where harm is significant and frequent, and also to maintain a general capacity.

The Department's general workplace inspectorate is small and accordingly its 'reach' into New Zealand businesses is limited. This is not necessarily problematic because the primary duty for maintaining safe and healthy workplaces is on employers, principals and those in control of places of work as well as a range of others associated with workplaces. However, it does mean the Department is limited in being able to fulfil its role of supporting businesses to operate safely and comply with the regulatory framework and taking enforcement action against those who are found to have not met their statutory obligations. Accordingly, part of achieving a reasonable balance between high hazard activities and other areas of focus may be about trying to maximise the use and value of the Department's capability and capacity as much as it is about increasing the number of inspectors working on high hazards.

High hazards require a different approach than general workplaces. Because of their highly complex nature, the Department needs to maintain specialised resources with specific industry knowledge. However, not all work with these industries needs to be undertaken by an industry specialist.

The Department must also ensure that these scarce specialist resources are focused as effectively as possible and not necessarily constrained to local or regional priorities.

The Department's specialised resources for the high hazard extractives and petroleum industries are currently inadequate.

It is also clear the current resource deployed for the petroleum industry is stretched. With only one specialised resource working on petroleum, the current inspector finds it difficult to achieve more than simply reacting to issues raised by the industry. If the inspector is required to pick up any more proactive work, like reviewing a safety case, this effectively creates significant time pressures. The inspector is also technically subject to any local priorities and resource constraints. So, if he needs to attend a conference or work in other regions, this needs to be balanced by the local managers against other local priorities. Generally, this seems to work commendably well. However, as resources become scarcer and the petrochemical industry starts broadening its operations beyond the Taranaki region, this will become more challenging.

Recruiting specialised staff from a small, internationally competitive industry is also challenging. Three specialists for each of the two high hazard areas supported by technical and general staff as well as through outside assistance seems a reasonable and responsible first step. As the Department improves its approach to high hazard industries, it is likely it will need to continue to monitor its resource needs.

Planning and coordinating high hazard work on a national basis

General observations

The Department's engagements with high hazard industries are managed by service offices as one of many local health and safety priorities. If the Department intends giving high hazards a stronger focus and prominence this approach will not support this.

One of the observations emerging out of the Review of the Department of Labour’s Interactions with Pike River Coal Limited and confirmed by this review is that the two inspectors working with the extractives sector work closely together and plan their activities and coordinate assignments between themselves. The inspectors also operate in more than one region undertaking inspection and investigation work in extractives industries in the North Island as well as the South Island. However, this coordination is self-organised and largely dependent on a large measure of goodwill.

The Interactions Review also identifies instances where the operations of the extractives inspectors have been constrained by (legitimate) local issues. Given the scope of extractives activities across the country and the likely expansion of the industry, it makes sense to have the inspectors involved in mining to be managed as a national service.

The same general finding applies to the Senior Adviser High Hazards (Petroleum & Geothermal) who works out of the New Plymouth office. Until recently almost all of the exploration and extraction activity has been confined to the Taranaki region. So having the Department's petroleum inspector located in New Plymouth has not been problematic. While it is likely Taranaki will continue to play a dominant position in the local oil industry, it is also likely that exploration and extraction activities will expand beyond Taranaki. New coal gas initiatives around the Nelson and West Coast regions as well as exploration drilling work around Poverty Bay are already starting to occur and this is likely to expand. It should also be noted that major onshore processing facilities and distribution services, such as Marsden Point and the oil and gas pipelines are also located outside the Taranaki region.

The Department's approach to both the underground mining and the petroleum industry is likely to increasingly require a greater emphasis on nationally-driven activities such as inter-agency coordination, national contracting and use of third parties and information/intelligence sharing. These types of activities are not best handled through local offices.

Actions

1. Initiate a national high hazard annual work programme to effectively plan the Department's work with high hazard industries and places of work. This work programme should set out the priority areas, compliance strategies as well as routine assessments, workplace visits of high hazard places of work and information strategies. [NSM]

2. As part of the annual planning process, the Department should identify key local and international relationships and develop an annual engagement plan. [NSM]

3. Based on this plan, all key relationships with other agencies, third party contracting and information sharing arrangements should be coordinated on a national basis. [NSM]

4. The day to day work of the inspectors and other resources working in high hazards areas should be nationally coordinated in line with the national work programme and agreed national priorities. [NSM]

5. LGLT should agree to the annual high-hazards plan and identify any elements of the national plan that may need to be cascaded down to or supported within regional and service office plans. [NSM]

Establish a High Hazards Unit in National Office

General findings

It is possible to undertake the proposed national high hazard planning and coordination without necessarily changing any existing reporting lines (e.g. having some sort of virtual team). However, by not shifting reporting lines to support this work, this national coordination could blur accountabilities and lead to inefficient and overlapping managerial responsibilities.

Accordingly, it is sensible to establish a new High Hazards Unit. This new unit would take responsibility for planning and coordinating all high hazard activities as well as providing a national focus point for developing and supporting relationships with other regulators, industry bodies, operators, third parties, employee organisations and the wider health and safety inspectorate.

The logical location for a national unit in the current structure of the Labour Group is within the Technical Support Services team. This would help encourage closer links between the Labour Group's technical specialists (e.g. asbestos, engineering, pressure vessels, etc), its standard setting functions and the high hazard industry specialists.

While part of the Technical Support Services team, the high hazards work should operate as a distinct team given it has a different, more operationally focused aspect to its work compared with the advisory and specialised enforcement services currently in the team.

The general structure of the high hazard team should be to have a senior adviser providing over-arching specialist skills and enforcement/compliance skills while also having active field staff.

This structure is in keeping with 'mining model' where there is a Wellington-based Senior Adviser providing leadership, coordination and enforcement activities supported by specialised inspectors in the field. Longer term, the petroleum work should also shift to this model (where a Senior Advisor provides coordination, leadership and enforcement services and is supported by specialised inspectors in the field - probably New Plymouth).

It is recommended the Department should proceed to engage a Wellington-based Senior Adviser High Hazards (Petroleum & Geothermal) and the imminent retirement of the Department's current New Plymouth-based Senior Adviser High Hazards (Petroleum & Geothermal) provides an ideal opportunity to recruit specialised inspector resources in the field.

All members of the new national high hazards team should be warranted in both HSE and HSNO and should undertake inspectorate work.

Actions

6. Establish a new national High Hazards Unit in the Technical Support Services team. [NSM]

7. In the short-term have the Manager Technical Support Services oversee the new High Hazards Unit. [NSM and MTSS]

8. Fold the future management of the High Hazards Unit into Phase 2 of the Labour Group review. [GM and NSM]

9. Change the reporting lines of the Senior Adviser High Hazards (Extractives) to the Manager Technical Support Services and locate the role in the new High Hazards Unit (note: the current Acting Senior Adviser will continue to report to the Chief Adviser for the time being). The Senior Adviser will continue to be based in Wellington. [GM and NSM]

10. Change reporting lines of two mines inspectors to the Senior Adviser High Hazards (Extractives) within the High Hazards Unit. The mines inspectors will continue to be physically located in their current locations. [GM and NSM]

11. When the current Senior Adviser High Hazards (Petroleum & Geothermal) retires (in August 2011), replace that position with a specialised HSE inspector [GM and NSM]

12. Establish a new cost centre for high hazard work and shift reasonable levels of resources out of affected service offices and regional budgets. The Manager Technical Support Services and the affected service managers and regional managers will need to agree on the appropriate level of resource needing to be shifted. Alongside the specific redistribution of resources from affected offices, all cost centres should also make some contribution to the operation of the unit given the national span of the unit. [MBS and MTSS]

13. The Manager Technical Support Services and the affected Service Managers will need to have clear understandings about the high hazard team members in terms of use of local resources (office space, cars, etc). These arrangements may be documented in some sort of service level agreement. [MTSS and SMs/RMs]

Provide additional internal resources to support high hazard work

General findings

The amount of resources deployed for high hazard activities is limited. For underground mining, the Department has two mines inspectors (one to be recruited) and one Senior Adviser High-Hazards (Extractives) (although there are three mining FTEs and two petroleum FTEs within the organisational structure). In petroleum, the Department currently has one specialist resource focused on petroleum exploration and extraction. This resource also covers geothermal and new petroleum technologies such as coal seam gas and coal gasification.

However, in addition to these specialised resources, there are other technical resources involved in other technical areas that may be relevant to these industries such as asbestos and pipelines. General Health and Safety Inspectors have also been used to undertake investigations, inspections and enforcement in high hazard workplaces. For example, New Plymouth inspectors have (on rare occasions) been used to investigate health and safety incidents in local petroleum operations and the Whangarei office deals with routine health and safety matters at the Marsden Point refinery. It should be noted though that despite the refinery's complexity and risk, it has not been subject to specialised checking under the Petroleum regulations - the Department's interactions have been general in nature (i.e. the same type of approach taken to any standard workplace).

The lack of specialised support means the Department's capacity for dealing with high hazard industries is constrained and comes under pressure when the small number of specialised inspectors go on leave. There is no succession planning and only limited additional capacity (i.e. ad hoc support from the New Plymouth Service Manager and office) to support the Senior Adviser High Hazards (Petroleum).

Actions

14. Appoint a health and safety inspector preferably with a background in chemical engineering and/or petroleum to report to the Senior Adviser, High Hazard (Petroleum) in Taranaki. The expectation is that this inspector will provide additional support for the Senior Adviser as well as be part of structured succession planning. [NSM and MTSS - involve SAHHP]

15. Appoint an additional Senior Adviser High Hazard (Petroleum) to be based in Wellington. This Senior Adviser should have a strong background in the petroleum industry and have specific competencies in managing high-level relationships. While this Wellington position should be operationally focused and support enforcement and compliance activities in a coordinated way with the New Plymouth office, this position should also have a focus on building and supporting local and international relationships with other regulators and industry bodies. [NSM and MTSS]

16. Implement a succession planning system for the Senior Advisers High Hazards. This should also be reflected into the development plans for Health and Safety Inspectors supporting the Senior Advisers and the Mines Inspectors (i.e. there should be a defined career-path from the HSE inspectors within the High Hazards Unit to become Senior Advisers) [MTSS and SAHHP]

Formalise and recognise the contribution from general Health and Safety Inspectors

General findings

General Health and Safety Inspectors are professionals who are able to enforce the HSE Act in all places of work, including high hazard industries. That being said, high hazard places of work have complex and technically demanding safety systems and tend to be inherently dangerous places. For these reasons, the Labour Group will continue to need ongoing access to subject matter expertise to address technically challenging, industry-specific safety practices.

General Health and Safety Inspectors are skilled in investigations and undertaking effective HSE/HSNO inspections, as well as providing advice and assistance on health and safety matters. It is sensible to use these skills to complement the specialised skills in the High Hazards Unit. This could be organised through a pool of inspectors who are kept informed of industry developments and the work of the high hazards team.

In relevant offices (i.e. those offices who have dealings with high hazard places of work such as New Plymouth, Christchurch, Whangarei, Dunedin and Rotorua), a pool of inspectors who will work with the high hazard staff as and when required, should be identified. These inspectors will need specific training to protect their own safety in the high hazard workplaces (e.g. helicopter and deepwater survival for offshore rigs, for example).

Actions

17. All regions should be invited to identify any inspectors who can be called upon to undertake inspections, investigations in high hazard places of work under the direction of high hazard staff. These inspectors will form an extended, auxiliary part of the High Hazards Unit. [RMs and SMs]

18. The relevant regions will need to support any additional training required to ensure the inspector is familiar with the likely hazards and controls present in specific high hazard industries and how to manage their personal safety in these environments. [SMs]

19. The identified inspectors will form an extended part of the High Hazards Unit and should be included in high level briefings and be kept informed on developments (including emerging risks and enforcement activities) occurring in the relevant industries. [MTSS]

20. The inspectors supporting the High Hazards Unit should also be given an opportunity to meet with the unit at least once a year and be involved in the unit's annual planning. [MTSS]

Review and update information systems to support high hazards

General findings

The Department's current information systems, such as INSITE, may be well suited for managing standard workplace engagements but are inadequate for storing complex data and information flowing from high hazard places of work and activities.

High hazard workplaces produce unique flows of information such as daily drilling reports, flaring notifications and safety cases (for petroleum operations) as well as complex information such as mine maps (for mines). This high hazard data is useful intelligence for the Department's high hazard team and for other regulators. Accordingly, the Department needs some sort of information system(s) that provides the following kinds of functionality:

Actions

21. Once the high hazards team has been established, the team should as a priority develop a workflow/business process analysis and determine whether and what additional systems will be required to support the high hazard activities. [MTSS]

22. Discuss with NOPSA and other regulators the possibility of accessing/using any specialised systems or software they may have for managing similar information requirements. [MTSS]

23. Propose a joint working group with NOPSA and Major Hazard Facility organisations (mostly State health and safety organisations) to co-operate on the longer-term development of shared technology platforms. [NSM]