How the ASA regulation in B.C. can help the oil & gas sector harmonize safety codes and standards

For years, industry has been asking provincial regulators to harmonize technical safety standards and regulations across provincial borders. This can be challenging because, although Canadian codes and standards are established and intended for adoption nationwide, each province adopts them differently.

The industrial makeup and legislative priorities in each province drive decisions on how regulations are adopted. As a result, they may be adopted in whole or in part, or with stated exceptions through each province’s individual regulatory framework. This can leave companies with locations in different provinces, looking for ways to harmonize safety standards.

In British Columbia, the Alternative Safety Approaches (ASA) regulation offers a solution to standards harmonization.

Administered through the BC Safety Authority, the ASA regulation offers instruments to enable full regulatory compliance to the requirements of B.C.’s Safety Standards Act, while providing the flexibility to recognize safety practices adopted in other regulatory jurisdictions. In essence, the ASA regulation enables BCSA to authorize safety programs already in place and functioning within a company’s operations, regardless of jurisdiction, so long as safety outcomes are met. The benefit of an ASA is that it allows the equipment owner to use the most suitable methods for efficient and safe operation of their specific business.

Sounds simple? It should. But it doesn’t come without some effort. To have an existing safety management program recognized in B.C., the business owner or operator must propose the program as an alternative to the established standard regulations in the province. To do this, the company must acknowledge the differences between B.C.’s technical safety regulations and those referenced in their existing operating program. If the company can demonstrate that the safety outcome of their practices will meet the intent and objectives of B.C.’s Safety Standards Act, they may not need to alter their established practices.

Those who have adopted the ASA regulatory instruments have benefitted from:

  • alternatives to administrative processes;
  • alternatives to prescribed worker qualifications;
  • harmonization of international codes and standards, and/or of technical standards and proven operating practices in other regulatory jurisdictions; and
  • equipment certification alternatives.

Developing an alternative proposal

The following are the steps involved in developing an alternative proposal.

  1. Invest some time understanding what the regulations call for, and what their safety objectives are. Seek local advice from licensed contractors, consultants, and even the BCSA. You can also visit safetyauthority.ca/regulations.
  2. Compare your company’s existing safety management system/program with the requirements of B.C.’s regulations.
  3. List the gaps or regulatory “rub points” where current practices may not appear to meet the prescribed method of compliance, or cause impractical obstacles to achieve compliance. This could be the identification of specific codes, standards or regulation clauses referring to a process, equipment certification, or worker qualifications.
  4. Articulate how your current practices achieve the intent or safety objective for the identified items above. Submit your information in an alternative proposal application. After the information is received by the BCSA, they will complete a formal assessment.

ASA’s are currently being developed with owners and operators in the oil and gas, propane, bioenergy, and institutional sectors.

While the above procedure sounds simple, BCSA acknowledges that some owners may be unfamiliar with the many codes, standards, and regulations in the province. Rest assured the BCSA can help! They have recently developed support services to help equipment owners better plan and manage their projects and on-going operations towards full and innovative compliance with B.C.’s Safety Standard Act.

The BC Safety Authority is an independent, self-funded organization mandated to oversee the safe installation and operation of technical systems and equipment. For more information about B.C.’s Alternative Safety Approaches regulation, Major Project Support or Optional Regulatory Services, contact Fred Tewfik, BCSA’s leader of regulatory alternatives & major projects at asa@safetyauthority.ca.

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