In 2018–19 the number of offshore petroleum hours worked in waters regulated by NOPSEMA fell by 25 per cent, following an unprecedented high the previous year, which recorded more than 17 million work hours. Despite the drop in comparison to last year, the 13.3 million offshore hours reported for 2018–19 reflect similar levels of activity achieved in preceding years.
Highlights of the last financial year include the introduction of regulatory amendments ensuring the full publication of environment plans and a public comment process for exploration activities. The changes mean that the public now has visibility of revisions throughout the assessment process from the publishing of an environment plan to the conclusion of the process, where a plan is accepted. It is important to note that an environment plan will only be accepted once it meets the stringent requirements of the Environment Regulations.
During the year, NOPSEMA inspectors completed 176 inspections across multiple facilities and activities, representing an increase of almost 20 per cent on the previous year. From these inspections, 1214 recommendations for improvement were identified and issued to relevant duty holders for action. Further to this activity, 529 investigations were undertaken with the objective of assessing particular concerns, verifying reports of notifiable incidents, workforce complaints and relevant provided information.
NOPSEMA received 386 reports of occupational health and safety incidents, including eight accidents and 378 dangerous occurrences, which is comparable to last year’s 382 recorded incidents. However, when taking into account the decrease in industry activity levels reported to NOPSEMA by facility operators, the incident rate actually increased from 21.6 per million hours worked in 2017–18 to 28.8 incidents per million hours worked in 2018–19.
NOPSEMA promotes compliance with the legislation through a range of tools including educational campaigns and provides direct advice through assessments and inspections. Enforcement action is also warranted in certain situations. In 2018–19, NOPSEMA supplemented the recommendations for improvement by also issuing 29 enforcement actions to address breaches of the legislation, hold responsible parties to account and deter similar non- compliance across the industry.
Duty holders are expected to demonstrate their awareness and compliance with the legislation before their activity is allowed to commence. Teams of NOPSEMA specialists ensure this awareness and compliance by assessing key permissioning documents such as safety cases and environment plans. In 2018–19, our specialists completed 158 assessments of key permissioning documents in addition to a further 208 assessments of other regulatory submissions.
Prior to the federal election in May 2019, the Liberal-National Coalition announced that if re-elected, it would initiate an independent audit of the environment assessment process administered by NOPSEMA for any proposed exploration activity in the Great Australian Bight. Following the election, Australia’s Chief Scientist was appointed to undertake the audit and I believe the timing is appropriate, given the recent Government reforms to enhance transparency of the environmental assessment process. The final audit report will be presented to the federal Minister for Resources and the federal Minister for the Environment. NOPSEMA looks forward to considering any findings of the Chief Scientist.
In reflecting on the past year, I wish to acknowledge the support of the NOPSEMA Advisory Board, the dedication of NOPSEMA staff and the considerable efforts of industry, the workforce and the community to ensure sound safety and environmental outcomes. I am committed to positioning and equipping NOPSEMA with the flexibility and agility required to continue to respond efficiently to challenges and opportunities into the future.