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Culture of fear at Shell Nyhamna Gas plant: Safety delegates ended up in psychiatric ward

Runar Kjørsvik was the chief safety officer at the Shell Nyhamna Gas facility until he was fired. Bjørn Tore Røshol took over the office. Both struggle with the psychological after-effects of a culture of fear at the facility. Their stories are quite similar. 

English translation of an article published by Stavanger Aftenblad on 11 May 2019.

Shell safety delegates ended up in a psychiatric ward. They tried to clean up Shell. They ended up with psychiatric chaos in their heads.

Foreign Skarsaune: JOURNALIST
Jon Ingemundsen: PHOTOGRAPH UPDATED: PUBLISHED: 11 MAY 2019 07:41

In the corner of the waiting room are two men. The chair between them is empty. It is quiet at the psychiatric outpatient clinic in Molde.

Bjørn Tore Røshol, left, and Runar Kjørsvik is sitting in the waiting room at the district psychiatric center in Molde. Photo: JON INGEMUNDSEN

They go here regularly. That they have hour at the same time this day is random. But that they are here, they think is not random. Both have been the main safety delegate at Shell’s gas facility at Nyhamna outside Molde. Both struggle with psychological after-effects. Their stories are quite similar:

Sleep Problems. Nightmares.

Evenings they do not lie down because they know which hell is waiting inside the sleep.

Runar Kjørsvik was the chief safety officer at the gas facility until he was fired. Bjørn Tore Røshol took over the office.

Now they will soon go to their own psychologist for a new chat. They hope they will soon have peace. They hope they will soon be able to sleep well again.

Bjørn Tore Røshol is home here, in the area around Malmefjorden. When he was furthest down, he thought there were some in the bushes around the house watching him. PHOTO: JON INGEMUNDSEN

Not so bad

In January, Auditor General Per-Kristian Foss presented a crushing report on the PSA (Petroleum Safety Authority Norway). One main point was that orders from the audit were not followed up by the oil companies – and that the audit did not work well enough to uncover serious security challenges.

On Monday, the report is to be consulted in the Control and Constitutional Committee of the Storting.

For three of four investigated follow-ups, the PSA received criticism from the OAG (Office of Auditor General). But not when it came to the follow-up of Nyhamna, Shell’s gas facility outside Molde.

The two men in the waiting room at the psychiatric outpatient clinic have long wondered how the OAG could conclude this way. None of them were interviewed by the reviewers. Both believe that the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway failed them.

And they claim to document that Shell said one thing to the Petroleum Safety Authority – and did something else.

In the OAG’s report, it is pointed out that there have been a number of problems at Nyhamna. The case for Runar Kjørsvik is also referred to, as the chief safety officer who notified about critical conditions – and was himself dismissed.

The Office of the Auditor General also mentions a concern report from the trade union Safe where it was notified of the lack of employee participation, frequent changes of shop stewards and chief safety representatives, and a fear culture in the organization. Here, the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway concluded that the situation was not as bad as Safe meant. In an interview with the Office of the Auditor General, the Authority states that they considered that the report of concern did not “reflect the conditions at the plant at this time” and that Shell “has grasped the issue”, so it will be better in the future.

Could it be that the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway did its job at Nyhamna? That Shell actually took hold?

Or has the OAG done the same thing as the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway is criticized for: Proud of the version they have been served, without following it themselves?

Regardless of the answer, regardless of responsibility, the conflict at Nyhamna had consequences for the two men in the waiting room on psychiatric in Molde. This is how they explain how they got there.

At Nyhamna on the island of Gossa outside Molde, the gas is processed before it goes on to England in the Langeled pipeline. PHOTO: JON INGEMUNDSEN

This may be the end

The tiller stands in the yard. The garment is missing on one long side of the house, a ditch with drain pipes is open, a BMW without a sign is parked a few meters further away, by the small barn with the worn paint. Some children’s toys, a quad bike with a trailer, a motorbike: BSA Spitfire 650 from 1968 with body-piercing sound and oil-incontinent engine.

The property is separated from his home farm, an old homestead. He bought it after the cohabitation of his mother’s six kids ended.

Under him lies the Malmefjord, with the island Gossa a little further out. There is Nyhamna, the Shell facility where the gas from the Ormen Lange field in the Norwegian Sea comes ashore, before it goes on to the UK.

It’s been a long time since it looked so good. It has been a long time since he has believed so much that all that awaits, everything he will have done, will come in order. The radio room that will fill large parts of the basement. New cladding on the house. New bathroom on the ground floor. Workshop on the barn.

Bjørn Tore Røshol knows that the forces are about to return. They have been far away.

So far away he has thought this, this may be the end.

BSA Spitfire 650 from 1968 is the same year model as Bjørn Tore Røshol. Now he wants to make it shine more. Just like him. PHOTO: JON INGEMUNDSEN

A foreign model goes ashore

The gas plant Nyhamna opened in 2007. It processes the gas from the Ormen Lange field to Shell in the North Sea, before it is sent on pipeline to England. Røshol started as a valve mechanic at the plant the year after opening, first as a hired and then as a permanent employee in 2011.

Røshol soon became a safety delegate, with several chief safety representatives over them. One of them was Runar Kjørsvik. The activity was large at the plant, because it became clear that Nyhamna would be able to accept gas also from several fields.

It was also clear to Røshol and Kjørsvik that several things were changing.

– We discovered that the staff management systems were changed. In short, more responsibility was transferred to the individual. If something went wrong, it was your responsibility, then you would not have done enough for it not to happen. It was a change to a personnel policy characterized by divide and rule, says Røshol.

The OAG describes it as “a foreign model”. For Røshol, this means that Shell wanted to do things at Nyhamna in the same way as the company does in the world, even though this is markedly breaking with the Norwegian working life model.

At the same time there were several things going on. Shell was to reorganize. And it became clear that gas plant employees had been exposed to sky-high doses of the carcinogenic gas benzene, well above the proper level.

– We started asking a number of things. And that was what led to Runar’s end, says Røshol.

Runar Kjørsvik just wants the case out. But he can’t rest completely yet. PHOTO: JON INGEMUNDSEN

I understand my problems better

A few baths in the cold water. The sea lies lazily in the spring sun and sends some light waves towards the rocky mountains.

From the converted boathouse he can look over the bay to Nyhamna. It is quiet, no sound from the gas that passes through the steel pipes.

The story of how Runar Kjørsvik was fired from the Shell job at Nyhamna, has been told several times. For him, the labor conflict led to him becoming ill.

– I was admitted to a psychiatric hospital. It was concluded that I had post-traumatic stress disorder. I was hospitalized for 13 weeks, but still goes to a psychologist, four years later.

The documents have become many – previous emails, supervision and own summaries. PHOTO: JON INGEMUNDSEN

– What were you talking about today?

– The usual things. About sleep, the nightmares. It helps. I understand my problems better.

– What are the nightmares about?

– Often I pursued at work, through a maze. It’s not so long since I dreamed that I had to cut off the hand of a colleague with an ax because it was stuck in a door that had closed behind us while we were being persecuted.

He doesn’t remember the last night he slept a whole night. The conflict with Shell clings to him and has also taken almost his entire day of the day.

– You can sometimes appear manic?

– Yes, but I was much more like that before. Now I want this case out. It’s so tiring. The psychologist has said that this whole thing has been so intense for me that it has left deep traces.

In a specialist statement from the Department of Adult Psychiatry at Molde Hospital, it is stated that Kjørsvik has a post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of “traumatic experiences he has been exposed to as the main safety representative in Norwegian Shell”. The superior writes that “there is no professional basis for suspecting unstable mental functioning in this person prior to the traumatic stress”.

He became a personnel case

For Kjørsvik, the problems began in 2013. Shell was to reorganize at Nyhamna. The main safety delegate was not satisfied with how the employees became involved. He refused to sign a protocol to approve the changes. For Kjørsvik, this meant that this was nothing but a hidden downsizing.

The main safety delegate also told the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway about its concerns several times. Kjørsvik remembers once he was at the meeting with the supervision together with the plant management.

“They made statements that the facility was world-class, had few injuries and that workers were involved in an outstanding way. The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway asked if I thought the same, and I did not. Then the management had to withdraw what they had said and confirm deviations. It is not easy to sit alone in such a meeting, but I had to take responsibility and say so, says Kjørsvik.

During the same period, the protection service found that gas plant employees had been exposed to very high and harmful doses of benzene. The case came up in December 2014 at a meeting between employees and management. In the minutes Aftenbladet has access to it, it appears that Nyhamna lacks mapping of who has been exposed to hazardous chemicals. The safety-service knew that workers had been exposed to a dangerous amount of benzene all the way back to Nyhamna opened in 2007. Therefore, they thought it was important that a post-registration of persons who could be exposed to the gas in case of late damage was also made.

– It was a shock, also for me. I worked in this myself. I had people crying to me. They were so afraid of what this could lead to. We demanded that Shell take hold of this, and also keep records back in time over who could be exposed to benzene. We wanted to receive support from the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway for this but received no help.

The relationship with management eventually became very inflamed. Kjørsvik chose to notify the authorities about the conditions at Nyhamna. It ended with Shell hiring a lawyer and organizational psychologist to investigate the case – a so-called fact study.

– The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway said they would await this report. They thought my case had become a personal case. Not only was this long before it was public. It also meant that the audit did not do more with my alerts.

A sea away

When the result of the fact study was clear, the company was acquitted and Kjørsvik experienced that he was made a scapegoat. At a general meeting in the cafeteria at Nyhamna in May 2015, construction manager Trond Loftstad stated that they had initiated a dismissal process against Kjørsvik.

– I got to know the final decision about my dismissal in a general meeting! It still bothers me. This fact study was devoured by the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway as a presentation of how the conditions were at Nyhamna.

Kjørsvik sued Shell to keep the job. The case ended with a settlement. Then it had come to light that the lawyer who had carried out the fact-finding survey should also be on Shell’s side in court – and that Shell meant they put on pictures that showed that Kjørsvik had worked at home on the farm while he was on sick leave from his job in Shell.

Kjørsvik rejected this, pointing out that there was a service man who repaired the excavator, which could be documented. He contended that Shell had watched him at home. The company replied that they had not taken the initiative for the pictures themselves, but had received them.

– Could you do something more, something different as the main safety delegate?

– I probably could. But when I became the main safety representative, we also had to work to build up the protection service. We had to make the working environment committee work again, and I sent the safety delegates on course. This I also got praised by my leader in an employee interview. The problems started when we didn’t want to be on the management side.

The bathing couple have come ashore. The day is coming soon, the sun will go down over the Shell gas plant, which can be seen in the west.

– I look right at my old workplace. But it never bothered me to look over there. It’s a sea away, says Kjørsvik.

That the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway did not receive any criticism for its treatment of the Nyhamna case by the Office of the Auditor General, Kjørsvik understands little.

– The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway was held for fun by Shell, and the Office of the Auditor General has not done a thorough enough job. Why haven’t they talked to me to hear my version? I can document that the audit was conducted behind the light of Shell.

Out there, under the sun, is the gas facility Nyhamna. It doesn’t bother Runar Kjørsvik to look at it. PHOTO: JON INGEMUNDSEN

He becomes a scapegoat

There are a number of documents from Nyhamna from the conflict-filled years. Aftenbladet has read both supervisory reports, internal documents and e-mails. Researchers from the Institute of Labor Research have also gone deep into the Nyhamna case on behalf of the trade union Safe, and also interviewed both shop stewards and management. The 130 pages long report came in January 2017, and was therefore available when the OAG carried out its investigations. But it is not on the reference list for the review report on the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway that was available in January this year.

A number of issues from the gas plant are reviewed in the report from the Institute of Labor Research, including Shell’s reorganization of the personnel systems to make the practice similar to the company’s operations in the world. Part of this was a new performance system, where the individual employee, to a greater extent than before, has his job mapped and measured, which employee representatives thought led to monitoring. A term such as “under-performance” was also introduced, which the employee’s representatives thought could be abused if you were told whether you needed more expertise or did not follow a procedure in full.

The report also describes how Runar Kjørsvik went from boasting in an employee interview for her efforts to making the protection service work, to becoming the scapegoat for lack of cooperation. In a meeting on a new strategy, he was dismissed by a manager, and accused of speaking false when he raised late involvement of employees. The manager later stated that he was not angry, but engaged.

It is also pointed out that at Nyhamna there has been a strong disagreement between the management and the protection service on minutes from meetings, and that the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway has been submitted the report the safety service believes is not adequate.

You’re no longer welcome

When Runar Kjørsvik was the chief safety representative, he gave a number of times to the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway that the cooperation with the management was inflamed. He once told that Shell had planted false information about him in his deviation system. One of these was the “lack of structure on the safety grounds”. The researchers behind the report point out that the deviation is special, because documents and interviews show “that it was the management who had failed to put on the safety rounds”.

Shell also wrote to the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway – in a reply in February 2015 following an audit report – that cooperation with the protection service is important and prioritized. Furthermore, it states that “the HVO protection service has a permanent notice of participation in Nyhamna Plant Manager’s weekly coordination meeting with Nyhamna’s management team. This allows for involvement in the issues being discussed.

A month later, Shell’s Nyhamna leader sent an e-mail to the chief safety delegate Runar Kjørsvik that the cooperative relationships are very difficult – and that he will no longer be allowed to attend the weekly coordination meetings, contrary to what Shell had written to the Petroleum Safety Authority.

Kjørsvik says that this happened at the same time as the conclusion in the so-called fact study was ready – and where he experienced being made the explanation for the problems. Again, a concern message was sent to the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway, which came up with a new audit. There, the chief ombudsman told repeated attacks on the security service and how he was made scapegoat in the factual report – and that Shell would now tell him.

In the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway’s report there are few traces of the inflamed situation Kjørsvik was in: “The conversations that were conducted gave the impression of skilled and committed employees and with good cooperation relationships between the parties involved.” The audit also wrote to Safe that they saw no reason for concern the situation at Nyhamna because “a lot of the information in the report concerns issues back in time and does not reflect the conditions that apply to the facility at the present time”.

Bjørn Tore Røshol could not disagree more. With the resignation of Runar Kjørsvik, it was Røshol who took over the job as the chief safety officer. Difficult issues were in line, but he was sure he had the back and experience to withstand the strain. He could be so wrong.

For a strong back is not enough when the head says stop and the nightmares creep up in bed.

Alone to the management

On the shaggy peaks on the horizon, the last snow spots cling to them. Their time is about to run away. Down in the hillside, a little over the Malmefjord, the white road has halfway taken over the slope behind his house, while the birch leaves press on to see.

When he was furthest down, he did not take the phone, did not pick up the mail, the bills remained, he went over the yard and figured it was lying up in the hay and spying on him, taking pictures of him.

Traveling at the store was a nightmare for Bjørn Tore Røshol. He was afraid to be seen and reported.

– Had it not been for my girlfriend, Synnøve, I do not know how it had gone. But in recent months the shape has been rising. Now I have regained the belief that I will get back to work.

When he took over as chief safety officer at Nyhamna, Shell would soon report on reorganizations and downsizing. For although the plant was under development for more gas, the oil industry was characterized by a cut wave.

And then there was the benzene case, the health-hazardous gas Røshol worked to protect employees from. Should he believe in the Shell management when they assured them that they would work with the security service?

– I quickly understood that it didn’t vote. I was in a hospital with serious illness. When I returned, I received a written warning due to a course that was not completed and a timely medical report.

For them to be safe

The development of Nyhamna continued while the plant was in regular operation. It made things demanding. Bjørn Tore Røshol was the main safety representative for 1300 workers. He felt, after all, that things worked pretty well.

– There was something completely different at Nyhamna then than it is now, where they are in a stable operating phase. I spent a lot of time out in the facility and got a lot of information. Then I could address this before the situation developed. We got cleaned up in many things.

But there was a lot to deal with. Comprehensive matters the management had spent a long time preparing, he found that the protection service had a short time to decide. It went beyond the time and effort he had for the family, the cohabitation with his mother of his six children ended, although Røshol will not blame the job.

As the chief safety representative, Røshol had several other safety representatives under him. But he found it difficult to put things on them.

– The main safety representative has the job full-time, while the other safety delegates have regular jobs and then the appointment as well. Thus, it was limited how much I could delegate, because they had even worse time than me, with reorganization and other things that were required.

In demanding cases he felt alone. While the management had a couple of people they could play on, he had almost no one. Røshol did not rely on the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway for what happened to his predecessor. It also became more difficult to cooperate with the Safe Club at Nyhamna after the company had gone out against the strong link between the protection service and the unions on the gas plant – a link, for example, the researchers from Oslo Met believes is natural and legal.

The load eventually became great. Røshol felt a great responsibility. He even thinks they were lucky to avoid serious injuries or fatalities.

– I tried to make a difference for those who worked at Nyhamna, in order for them to be safe at work.

There was condensate

The benzene case had come up while Røshol was the main safety delegate for Runar Kjørsvik in 2014. Shell had informed them that they should deal with the case, but the protection service was not satisfied with the measures taken by the management and felt that they did not take the problem with the carcinogenic gas seriously enough.

The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway was notified that Shell had lacked routines for mapping benzene at Nyhamna since its inception in 2007, seven years earlier.

Shell responded to the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway’s measures. The case was considered resolved, despite protests from the protection service, the report of the Institute of Labor Research shows.

But it would turn out that the registry still didn’t come into place. In May 2016, the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway revealed that Shell still had no system to keep track of employees who have been exposed to benzene and other hazardous substances, according to the audit report on the Authority’s website.

– I remember how it was in the first few years. We worked on opening valves in a tent without proper ventilation. There was condensate. There is no doubt that many have been heavily exposed. Then it is important that there is a register so that we know who it is and that they have something to show so they can be followed up. I worked for this after the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway pointed out that we were missing the register. But Shell did not want such a post-registration of hired and former employees, claims Røshol.

Shell now states that they do not have a separate register for former employees, but that they have the opportunity to re-examine and when they may have been exposed. Shell points out that for hired, it is their employer who is responsible for keeping the register.

Then he didn’t greet me

For Røshol the doubt began to creep. Reorganization, downsizing, carcinogenic gas. He had fought against it, but found it not useful. Had he, who was designated to take care of the others, done enough? Did he really make a difference? Had he delivered for the trust he had received from his colleagues, safeguarded their rights?

– I was trying to prepare people for what came. In the autumn of 2017, it became clear that about 60 hired persons should be cut. That Christmas I sat alone here and thought that now I had been involved in destroying the celebration for many families.

Røshol says that there were also many, initially small things, that eventually made it enough.

– I was able to take up a rather banal case in a meeting with the company, and then find that their representative went to me as a person, above all. For example, a leader was so angry at a meeting that he had to go out in the hallway. He didn’t greet me for months. All the time doubt was sown about the job the security service did.

– Yet you asked for re-election as the main safety delegate?

– I wanted to finish what I had started and that I had insight into what we were up to. And then I didn’t mind anyone taking over all the madness. But when I was not selected, I was relieved. I was just looking forward to being a regular employee.

The wave took him

The joy didn’t last long. The darkness came to light. It was hard to hear from colleagues that he had helped to decide the organization – that he had helped kick all the hired workers – even though he had done his utmost to fight it.

One night Røshol went to the facility to check that things were secured. It was reported strong winds. When he was to tighten a belt, he hooked his finger to the metal and did not get a fling in the ring finger on the left hand. He visited the nurse, the injury was treated and recorded, and it was no more serious than he did not need to be away from work.

A little later he was told by his manager that he had to provide a detailed description of what had happened, along with pictures.

– The staffing was low, so we were a lot out in the field. I hadn’t been able to hand in the report and was called in for a couple of guards. There was the message that since the report was not delivered, I had to look at this as a warning and that it would have consequences for the employment. With me it triggered something. The first day as the chief safety representative, I received a written warning. Now everything was falling, it was like a wave that had built itself up behind me for a long time, suddenly blaming me.

Life went into chaos. He could go several nights without sleeping. Sleep became something to fear.

– I have six wonderful children that mean everything to me. I don’t know how many times they were subjected to something horrible in my nightmares. I knelt to put myself, because I knew what was coming. I wake no one to wake up foaming and feel chased.

The red curtains dampen the sunlight in the room. Some legos on the table, he had the youngest kids yesterday, a car under construction is parked at the coffee cup.

He gets quiet.

– Sorry. I’m cold when I talk about this.

At the workshop he has a number of projects going on. One is to clean up properly. He’s started: PHOTO:  JON INGEMUNDSEN

I don’t believe they want me any good

A black Audi stands with the hood up. One, two, three motorcycles, or four, are in a row and row, behind some parts, at the bottom of the wall. Motorcycles are his great passion, the oldest is a rarity from the 30’s, but in the past year he has barely driven a bike. The fear has been in the body, it is probably best to stay home, with the mobile on silent.

Cardboard boxes marked with turbo are stacked in one hook, just beside the remains of a worn out fertilizer pump, previously eaten by rust, now refurbished with new, shiny steel. A welding screen on a table, ready to fasten something. Stacks of car tires against a wall, ready to find a partner, roll around and feel the wind in the grooves. They stare out into the room, against the car standing upright and with empty wheels.

He says he has been fighting for one year to get fit. He was unable to use the workshop, which is down by the fjord, a few minutes from his house. Now the forces are beginning to come back. And he has begun to sort the chaos a bit.

Just before Easter, Bjørn Tore Røshol sent a notice to Shell and relevant authorities about the conditions at Nyhamna and what he has experienced. Now he has just talked to Shell’s lawyer, who called to discuss how the alert should be dealt with.

– It’s good that they take it seriously, and they have to do it. I’m also a deputy representative for the board of Norske Shell. But I do not believe that they want me any good, because it shows all the history that they do not. Shell does the same as we see many other places: Attacks the Norwegian working life and the good cooperation we have built up over many years. Now it is under severe pressure.

Together with a younger brother he arranged the old, rusty fertilizer pump in the home yard that had suddenly splashed the shit inside the barn, with new steel and a round of the welding machine.

– Do you want to go back to work at Nyhamna?

– After all, what has happened, I see Nyhamna as a good workplace with wonderful colleagues. I am still employed by Shell and I will be back to work as soon as possible. But my psychologist has questioned whether going back to Nyhamna is good for me.

For Røshol, it had helped if the OAG had done their job and did not buy the version he believes Shell and the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway sold them.

The one that the problems at Nyhamna were not so serious, that they were arranged in, that they acted most about some arguing safety representatives.

Bjørn Tore Røshol goes out into the sun. There are a number of cars out there, several of them are his. He is looking forward to putting them on the road, getting them on the road.

– I tried to safeguard my colleagues’ rights and be the front soldier for the supervisory authorities. This caused me to destroy my health and spend a lot of time with mine. But I go straight, because I know I try to make a difference.

Anette Vassdal took over as chief safety officer at Nyhamna a year and a half ago. She experiences the collaboration with management as well. PHOTO: JON INGEMUNDSEN

Epilogue: Good collaboration with management from day one

At Gossa spring sun rules over the flat landscape. Outside, the ocean waits. During World War II, the Germans built an airport on the island, which is connected to the mainland by ferry.

The plant at the northeast tip, where the gas is processed and sent back to England with the Langeled pipeline, can be seen through the windows at Shell’s administration building a few hundred meters away. Anette Vassdal shows the way. The process operator has been working here since the opening in 2007. The plant on the island allowed her to move home to the island she comes from.

For the past 18 months, she has been a full-time safety delegate at Nyhamna. Vassdal was appointed to the position of Safe, the largest trade union at the plant, and took over the position from Bjørn Tore Røshol.

– I had quite recently taken on board as a safety delegate. When I was suggested as a new chief safety officer, I spent time deciding, because I wanted to familiarize myself with what the duties meant. When I took over, I realized that it would be a great job to get the structure in place and get engagement back into the protection service.

She will not go into the cases of the predecessors in the office.

– But I can say that the security service at Nyhamna has not been well-functioning, which the majority of the employees have also expressed. My cooperation with management was good from day one. We had no major disputes when I took over and it is a long time since there have been so few cases for the protection service and management as now.

– With all the conflicts that have been at Nyhamna, were you worried about how the office would be?

– No, there are always several sides of a case. I have chosen to look ahead. There has been a lot of talk in the halls here, and I have been concerned that we must address things before they can develop. We have always been listened to by the management and we get good participation in all processes.

– Is there a fear culture at Nyhamna today?

– No, I don’t have that impression. My impression is that everyone I talk to is good at work. The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway has also commented that they have noticed a great difference in recent years, and the entire protection service has contributed to this.

– What do you think about the job Petroleum Safety Authority Norway has done?

– They have been thorough on the audits and done a good job. Nothing has been hidden from them. We prepare well in advance and we take care to follow up if there should be something to do after the inspections.

– Your two predecessors in the office have struggled with mental problems. What do you think about it?

– I cannot and will not comment on colleagues’ illness. But I am surprised, since my current colleague Bjørn Tore wanted re-election as the main safety delegate as late as eighteen months ago. Based on my own experience, I can say that the role of chief safety officer at Nyhamna is both rewarding and demanding. It is also a role one takes voluntarily. If I had felt that it was too stressful, I would not have asked for re-election – but I do, says Vassdal.

Shell: Not unusual with wrinkles

Shell does not hide that “we have had challenges” at Nyhamna. But communications manager Kitty Eide points out that it doesn’t tell everything.

– We have received many feedback from employees who think it is sad and unfair when Nyhamna is presented as a poor workplace with fear culture. All parties with us have worked hard to correct weak points in our collaborative relationships, and to clear and formalize our processes.

She points out that Shell will be tidy in what they can comment on, in order to be in line with the settlement that was concluded with Runar Kjørsvik and what an employer can say about employee sickness reports or notifications.

– What do you think about that two former employees at Nyhamna have to go to a psychologist to cope with the aftermath of the office as the chief safety officer?

– We obviously think it is a search that they have the same negative experiences from the role as the main safety delegate at Nyhamna. We do not have information about their state of health beyond what Aftenbladet has told us, and have no basis for commenting on the reasons why they need psychological follow-up. We hope they get the help they need, for whatever reason.

– They claim to have been opposed, suspected, that warnings have been used against them and that it was a fear culture at Nyhamna when they were the chief safety delegate. They think it was difficult to go against what the management wanted them to do. Is this notion Shell shares or how do you explain the difficult working environment?

– It is not uncommon for breaches to occur in discussions between the parties in the working life. This must nevertheless be based on mutual trust and respect. It is part of the dynamics that help us improve. Our management is, of course, responsible for this in our own camp, and we take seriously when we are claiming that we have failed in this area, writes Eide.

She points out that Nyhamna has been through a comprehensive rebuilding project, at the same time as the gas plant was in full operation. Over 7,000 additional people were involved, and at times the crew lay ten times above normal levels.

Around 140 people are now working on the plant.

Not all

– It is still claimed by someone that there is a fear culture at Nyhamna. How do you look at it?

– We must have an inclusive working environment where everyone can safely say their opinion. We have annual employee surveys that show that the majority of Nyhamna experience such an open culture, but also that there are still some who do not. We take this seriously.

Eide points out that when the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) was informed that the main safety delegate participated in the weekly management meeting, this had been a permanent arrangement since 2013.

– This was an unusual scheme to strengthen transparency and trust. Normally, only management is present in management meetings. After a while, the management stated that the original purpose was not met, and the protection service had also given a clear signal that they only wanted to meet management at the formal meeting points. The leadership meeting was not such a formal meeting point, she writes.

– Runar Kjørsvik believes Shell planted false information in the non-conformance system, and that his alerts as the main safety representative were turned into a personnel case?

– This is presented as the fact that matters relating to the role of the principal safety delegate formed the basis for the personnel case. We disagree with this. Kjørsvik did his job as the main safety representative when he told us about conditions that should be followed up. The dismissal based on personnel-related matters that became a personnel case we still cannot comment on.

Eide also believes it is wrong that Shell has not taken benzene seriously at Nyhamna.

– Measuring equipment, procedures and protective measures have been in place from the start, and in cooperation with the protection service, we have worked thoroughly with improvements for how this is practiced. This was also something Kjørsvik was concerned with as the main safety delegate and contributed to further improvement. Norwegian Shell was one of the first companies in our industry to establish a register of exposed workers.

– Will the registry be returned to the start of the plant?

– We have data from when this registry was introduced, and we have registered relevant data from before the creation. Historical information about who has been exposed to what before this registry was established is available, among other things through the company health record of the individual employee. For hired, their employers are responsible for keeping the register. We ask registered employers to document this, writes Eide.

– Don’t challenge

Eide denies that Shell has challenged the Norwegian working life model.

– We base it on all our operations in Norway, and see both the party cooperation in the company and the tripartite cooperation at organizational level as a mainstay. To the extent that the Shell Group’s guidelines were to be different Norwegian rules, we follow the Norwegian.

Eide believes that it is quite common for the individual employee to meet with the requirement to have the necessary expertise to perform their duties.

– In our industry, this is often linked to security, where the authorities also require us as the employer to document that our employees have the right competence. We have a duty to both facilitate such training and follow up that our employees satisfy such requirements.

Shell believes that Røshol’s notice does not contain significant new information.

“However, we want to understand whether it can be more behind that can lead to us discovering any criticisms or areas of improvement that we can do something about,” writes the Head of Communications.

The Office of the Auditor General: Freeing Shell follow-up

The Auditor General Per-Kristian Foss states at the conclusion in the OAG’s report that January: There is nothing to criticize the PSA for when it comes to following up the situation at Nyhamna.

– The Office of the Auditor General’s mandate is to investigate how the state administration does its job. This means that we have investigated the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway, and not Shell, which is a private operator. We have, among other things, looked at how the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway has followed up reports of concern and notification concerning Nyhamna, writes Foss in an e-mail.

He points out that in the investigation they have been concerned with using many different sources.

– We have gone through the documentation of the supervisors, background documents, concerns and other content thoroughly. In addition, we have interviewed many actors, including representatives from the employee associations Industry Energy, Safe, Tekna, Nito and the Managers, writes Foss.

The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway has followed up the reports of concern, concluding the Office of the Auditor General.

– We know that there are different views on the working environment and the role of the protection service at Nyhamna. Our survey showed that a union believes there are still challenges, others believe it is not a challenge. With regard to the termination of the safety delegate, there is a case between the company and the dismissed, and nothing either the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway or the OAG has the opportunity to enter.

– Why haven’t you interviewed the two main safety delegates who stood in the middle of the conflict or looked at the report from the Labor Research Institute?

– In the meetings with the trade unions, we have consistently chosen to relate to the main organizations and asked them to point out who we should talk to by local union representatives. The two unions (Safe and Leaders, ed. Note) have represented both central and local union representatives from Nyhamna in meetings with the OAG, writes Foss.

The report from the Institute of Labor Research is not on the reference list for the Office of the Auditor General. Waterfall indicates that they are familiar with the report and had a smatale with one of the scientists behind it.

– The report has been reviewed and included as part of the documentation that was reviewed in the in-depth study of Nyhamna even though it is not mentioned in the reference list, writes Foss.

Petroleum Safety Authority Norway: The cooperation at Nyhamna is now working

For the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway, Nyhamna is a plant that has been prioritized, says spokesperson Øyvind Midttun. He points out that the Office of the Auditor General has not had any statements until the job the audit has done.

– At Nyhamna there has been great activity. We have also received concerns about the working environment and the relationship between management and protection service. For this reason, we have been keeping a close eye on Nyhamna for several years and carried out a number of inspections, says Midttun.

The Petroleum Safety Authority Norway noted that the cooperation between the management and the security service at Nyhamna was not good.

– The impression now is that it has improved. It has gradually improved and it seems like the collaboration is working well now. There is good sound in the protection service, and our assessment is that the company makes good arrangements for employee participation.

– Former main safety representative Runar Kjørsvik believes that the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) withdrew when the notification case was defined as a personnel case by Shell?

– I can’t comment on Kjørsvik’s case. But in general I can say that there are limits to what the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway can do and what falls outside of our area of ​​responsibility. We sometimes experience a gap between expectations for us and what we can actually contribute. We supervise that the companies comply with the regulations with regard to working environment and employee participation, but we cannot solve specific disputes between employer and employee. This is outside our area of ​​authority.

– How can one say that a case is a dispute or a protection case?

– This must be assessed against the regulations.

– Former chief safety officer at Nyhamna says that they felt lonely against the Shell management and that they lost faith in the help of the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway?

– I have no reason to say anything about it. But part of what we oversee is that the companies facilitate employee participation. Safety delegates must, among other things, have enough time to do their job, and it is the company’s responsibility to make sure that it happens. So it is also the case that the authorities cannot force anyone to achieve a good working environment.

Midttun points out that the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway took up employee participation with Shell – and that the impression was that the company followed up.

– At the same time, it can be documented that Shell notified a measure to you, then to give another message internally?

– It’s not like that we only talk to the management. We also collect information from the protection service and other employees. And the impression now is that the collaboration has improved.

– Why?

– There may be various reasons for this, but in general both sides must contribute to achieving good cooperation. Although the company has the main responsibility for facilitating employee participation, it is also the responsibility of the employees to take responsibility for achieving good participation. And, of course, that means something that we as the auditor have taken up this, both in supervision at Nyhamna and in status meetings with the company, says Midttun.

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