Proceedings of the

The 33rd European Safety and Reliability Conference (ESREL 2023)
3 – 8 September 2023, Southampton, UK

An Uncertain Risk Concept? Perceptions of Uncertainty Among Risk Professionals in Norwegian Petroleum Companies

Martin Inge Standal1,a, Siri M. Holen2,e, Torgeir Kolstø Haavik1,b, Susanne Therese Hansen1,c, Marius G. Vigen2,f and Martin Rasmussen Skogstad1,d

1NTNU Social Research, Studio Apertura, Norway.

2Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), Faculty of economics and management, Department of industrial economics and Technology Management, Norway.


Background: In the petroleum industry, risk has traditionally been described as a combination of the probability of an event, and the consequences of the occurrence of the event. In 2015 the Petroleum Safety Authority of Norway changed the risk definition underlying its regulation, where risk is described as "the consequences of the activities, with associated uncertainties". With functional regulations the internal control systems of the companies are a fundamental element of safety. This means that how individuals understand risk will influence risk mitigation. The study aims to understand how uncertainty in risk is perceived and described by risk professionals working in the Norwegian petroleum industry. Method: Semi-structured interviews with 12 risk professionals in Norwegian oil and gas companies, analyzed with thematic analysis. Results: Descriptions of uncertainty in risk ranged on a scale ranging from more traditional risk definitions to uncertainty as the fundamental aspects of risk. Little practical impact of a changed risk definition was described beyond greater awareness and legitimacy to communicate uncertainty. Conclusion: There was no unified perception on how to view and describe uncertainty in risk among risk professionals. The present study indicates that, more often than not, uncertainty was perceived as an important and fundamental aspect of risk. Greater legitimacy to communicate uncertainties to decision makers may be a practical impact of the definition change.

Keywords: Uncertainty, Perceptions, Risk, Regulation, Probability.

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