STAVANGER, Norway, Nov 29 (Reuters) - Norway will appoint a public commission to look into the safety of the country's offshore oil and gas industry following a recent string of accidents, the government said on Tuesday.
As falling oil prices force companies to cut spending, unions and Norway's safety watchdog have warned cost cutting could affect safety.
"There have been several serious incidents in the last year. The Petroleum Safety Authority has also raised the question of whether security is at a crossroads," the Minister of Labour and Social Affairs Anniken Hauglie said in a statement.
Cost cuts and other efficiency measures must not be allowed to have a negative impact on safety, she added, echoing statements made by Norway's Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA).
"This trend (of rising number of incidents) has to be shifted now. We really need improvements in order to avoid new accidents, new injuries...," Petroleum Safety Authority (PSA) chief Anne Myhrvold told an industry conference.
"Safety issues need to be up in the agenda ... We need action now".
A string of recent incidents at Statoil's facilities has accelerated concerns and the Norwegian oil major has started an investigation into them.
"We don't see any evidence of anything in particular related to ongoing (efficiency) improvement efforts, but this is something we need to investigate further," Statoil Chief Executive Eldar Saetre told Reuters.
The risk of accidents in Norway's oil industry rose last year after reaching record lows in 2014, a survey by the Nordic country's safety watchdog showed earlier this year.
"Nothing is indicating that there is a link between the reduced costs and increased level of risk," Royal Dutch Shell's Norway chief, Tor Arnesen, told the conference.
"If you want to know if safety is prioritised differently today, the answer is no," he said.
The Industri Energi and SAFE unions, both representing oil workers, said they were pleased with the government initiative.
"We are in the midst of a tough time and we know that it will continue. Cost cuts and layoffs for over 2.5 years is an substantial burden to local partners even though there are variations," Industri Energi deputy leader Frode Alvheim said.
The price of North Sea Brent crude has recovered from a low of $28 a barrel in January to around $47, but is still down around 60 percent from its 2014 peak.
(Writing by Terje Solsvik and Stine Jacobsen, editing by David Evans)
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