The oil and gas companies must focus more on competence, rather than compliance, if they are to achieve a step-change in safety skills and performance, according to a report commissioned by industry skills and training standards body OPITO. Over 65% of respondents to the study said the current focus on compliance in companies could lead to complacency.
The study, entitled “Tick Safety not Boxes”, was conducted by the Robert Gordon University and sponsored by Aberdeen Drilling Consultants, is part of OPITO’s efforts to improve global safety and competency standards. The research included around 50 interviews with senior managers in a range of oil and gas companies in 11 countries.
“Anecdotally we recognised that there was tension among oil and gas companies between ensuring compliance and a competent workforce that can perform safely,” said David Doig, group chief executive of OPITO.
While many companies go over and above their legal and other requirements in terms of compliance, there is a mixed approach to competence with various views on what it actually is and how it is measured, according to Doig.
“Compliance aside, organisations need to know their employees are competent to do the job they are trained for<” he noted. “The research proves that the tick box mentality around compliance needs to change and a real understanding of what competence is, who takes ownership of it and how it can be achieved is the best way to protecting people, performance and reputations.”
The findings reveal a clear realisation among oil and gas companies around the world that being compliant is not enough to improve workforce safety and skills. While respondents believed their company approach to compliance is exemplary, there is an appetite for greater consistency and global standards in competence management.
Respondents highlighted that certification does not equate to competence and more attention needs to be paid to the outcomes of training programmes. The robustness of assessment of competency and validity of processes was questioned and there appears to be a lack of consensus and common understanding of what competence means.
There is a desire for greater openness and sharing across the industry in relation to the management of competence and a requirement for ownership of competencies to be embedded more deeply in companies. Major issues emerged about companies’ confidence in the delivery of compliance and competence among their contractors.
There was some disagreement as to the extent to which the Macondo tragedy had pressured companies into moving from a compliance based model to a competence based one. Around 46% felt that it had and 18% disagreed. A number argued that the incident had resulted in highlighting the two.
Over 40% had made no changes to compliance and competence systems as a result of Macondo but some had carried out a healthcheck of existing processes and reported a greater rigour in implementation and heightened awareness of the need for very robust processes.
Some employers had widened the scope of employee review, made equipment changes and developed new methods of project leadership. Others had focused on competencies around oil spill response and adopted new safety training requirements which came out of the US in the aftermath.
Professor Rita Marcella of Robert Gordon University, said: “The relationship between compliance and competence was one of the most interesting factors from the research. Almost 40% felt that competence is a product of a high quality, robustly assured compliance system, while 16% felt it was not and 14% saw compliance and competence running in parallel and less than 13% believed competence was only one aspect of compliance.
“Over half stated that basic compliance was the priority while 30% said competence should come first. Conversely, when asked whether it was more important for companies to bring their workforce to a place of compliance or to develop competence to do the job, respondents tended to swing towards competency being the priority. This underlined the tension around the relationship between compliance and competence which should be the subject of further industry debate.”
Around 44% of companies did not think that compliance and competence systems were integrated and, where they were, this could be regarded as partial or inefficient. There was a growing recognition that they need to be integrated but uncertainty as to how this could be achieved.
As an industry it is clear that we are compliant but there are questions over competence, said Doig, who also noted concerns about an evidence of a gap between what senior management think is happening and the reality operationally. We have to close that gap.
“It is unacceptable that the industry is unable to tell if its workforce is competent until that competency is tested by an incident,” the OPITO boss concluded. “There is a lot of work to be done in terms of proving the success of training and making sure we don’t assume because a worker has been trained he is competent to do the job. The drivers for competence are still related to business performance rather than safety performance.
“Interestingly, many felt that the ownership of competency had to move further down the organisation with workers at the coal-face being delegated with more responsibility around assuring and measuring competence among workers.
“OPITO will be digesting this research with industry and looking at the potential for developing and rolling out a pan-industry approach to measuring competency. Adoption of common global standards would help but we may have to go further.”