Caution sounded over offshore rig roster changes to reduce COVID-19 risks

Date: 
Thursday, 16 April, 2020 - 09:30
Category: 
Industry news
Location: 
National News

The National Offshore Petroleum Safety and Environmental Management Authority (NOPSEMA) recently expressed concerns about operators introducing modified roster arrangements to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission among members of the offshore workforce.

These proposed roster changes typically include an onshore quarantine period prior to travelling offshore to reduce transmission risks, however, often involve extending offshore periods.

The concerns in relation to some of the proposed rosters and the manner in which the roster changes have been introduced include:

  • Insufficient workforce consultation in relation to the changes
  • Insufficient consideration of fatigue risk
  • Insufficient consideration of psychosocial hazards to workers and their families
  • Poor communication to the workforce of proposed additional control measures intended to minimise the risks introduced through roster changes
  • Introduction of roster changes outside of the management of change processes described in facility safety cases
  • Insufficient consideration of the impact that proposed roster changes may have on Major Accident Event (MAE) risk across the facility.

 

NOPSEMA said it has undertaken some inspections in response to proposed COVID-19 roster modifications and will continue to do so to ensure that facility operators are utilising appropriate workforce consultation, risk assessment, and management of change processes.

“Fatigue risks associated with extended rosters include increased likelihood of injury (physical fatigue) and error (mental fatigue),” the regulator said in a related safety alert. “Increased likelihood of error caused by mental fatigue can increase MAE likelihood for MAEs with control measures that are critical human tasks.

“That is, those activities people are expected to perform as barriers against the occurrence of an incident, or to prevent escalation in the event that an incident does occur, including activities required to support or maintain physical and technological barriers.”

Psychosocial risks associated with extended rosters include onset or exacerbation of psychological injury such as depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

The ‘resting level’ of anxiety among the general population is arguably higher than normal in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, and NOPSEMA said the introduction of extended rosters may therefore represent a greater psychosocial risk than would otherwise be the case.

Research also suggests that Fly-In Fly-Out workers may experience higher rates of depression, anxiety, and stress symptoms than that of the general population.

“Members of the workforce with previous or pre-existing psychological injury are likely to be at greater risk of relapse and escalation of symptoms in response to extended roster arrangements,” NOPSEMA said.

When considering the psychosocial risks associated with extended rosters, operators should include evidence-based information about the psychological health of their offshore workforce, and should not assume predominantly sound levels of psychological health across the workforce.

While NOPSEMA recognises the significant risk reduction provided through mandatory pre-mobilisation isolation periods to help prevent the spread of COVID-19, it said operators should be aware that psychosocial risks are likely to be heightened for members of the workforce required to undertake such an isolation period.

“Operators and responsible parties should also be aware that the onset or exacerbation of psychological injury associated with extended rosters must be reported to NOPSEMA as an accident,” the regulator said.

“Operators introducing changes to their rosters in response to COVID-19 should ensure that risk assessments for fatigue and psychosocial hazards are undertaken, comprehensive, and involve extensive workforce consultation.”

Changes to rosters should be managed, and documented, through established management of change processes, and this would be expected to include appropriate workforce consultation.

Assessment of psychosocial hazards should also include consideration of a broad range of factors, for example:

  • Pre-existing or previous psychological injury
  • The effects of extended absence from family during a pandemic
  • The heightened risk of psychosocial harm during periods of pre-mobilisation isolation.