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Putting safety first

Published:  27 January, 2014

A new training course puts the offshore workforce at the forefront of safety improvements. ODEE reports.

Oil and gas safety performance has improved since the Piper Alpha disaster 25 years ago. However, gas releases still occur each year. One way to reduce releases and improve the safety culture is by increasing workforce involvement in the management of Major Accident Hazards (MAHs). DNV GL has recently become the only accredited provider of a new training programme for Elected Safety Representatives (ESRs), which is already having impactful change within the industry.

UK legislation gives offshore ESRs the right to: participate in the preparation and review of safety cases; participate in the investigation of hazards, dangerous occurrences and accidents; conduct independent inspections on the installation; and make representations to the installation management regarding health and safety matters.

The Cullen Enquiry report following the Piper Alpha disaster recognised that: “It is essential that the whole workforce is committed to and involved in safe operations…Possibly the most visible instrument for the involvement of the workforce in safety is a safety committee system”.

Subsequent to the report, it has been recognised that most ESRs are not sufficiently equipped to perform the full range of their functions and, therefore, wholly achieve the vision that Lord Cullen created for workforce involvement. Indeed, in his 2011 review of the UK regulatory regime following the Macondo Blowout, Professor Geoffrey Maitland of Imperial College, London commented: “ESRs will be more effective if they have a good understanding of the major process hazards in an organisation’s activities and how the risks are managed. Training in this respect would impart the ability, knowledge and understanding necessary to make them more competent in this area. Included in this must be the ability to communicate effectively with workforce and managers alike.”

This is precisely what the ESR Development Training addresses. A taskforce comprising ESRs, trade unions and industry bodies worked together to produce a standard for ESR Development Training which was then adopted by OPITO – the global oil and gas industry training organisation.

Earlier this year, DNV GL held a series of pilot courses and is now the only accredited provider of Elected Safety Representative Development Training. It will make the courses available to more than 2000 ESRs working across the industry.

The training comprises four two-day modules which may be completed as any combination of the following:

1. Understanding and identifying MAHs;

2. Understanding risk analysis to get involved in preparing/revising safety cases;

3. Investigating incidents and applying root cause analysis;

4. Conducting independent inspections and audits and presenting findings effectively.

The focus of the training is firmly on the understanding, interpretation and review of safety cases. The training aims to demystify the safety case, debunk some of the terminology and shift the emphasis towards high-consequence, low-probability events.

Interactive training

The training is interactive, with most of the time spent on activity-based learning. This helps delegates to retain more of the new knowledge and confidently apply it to effect change on installations. Activity based learning recognises the varying strengths and combinations of individuals’ preferred learning styles. Consequently, the training incorporates music, problem solving, imagery, photos, spoken and written language and interactive activities that combine to create “aha” moments of personal discovery.

Crucially, the training is delivered by subject-matter experts who are leading practitioners in their field and have hundreds of years of accumulated experience. This, combined with small class sizes and low trainer/delegate ratios, means that classes address specific issues that arise. Classes are a maximum of 12 ESRs – often from different backgrounds, installations and companies and with varying experiences. Delegates are actively encouraged to work collaboratively and this diversity has led to the excellent sharing of practical solutions to common challenges.

The future

During Oil & Gas UK’s recent Piper 25 Conference in Aberdeen, Scotland, a series of workshops introduced this training to the industry. The programme has been established for 2013/14, giving ESRs the opportunity to learn more about safety cases and strengthen their network. Initial delegates have already reported stories of opening their installation safety case for the first time and reading it meaningfully. One delegate has committed to auditing one Major Accident Hazard and associated Safety Critical Elements on each trip. Other ESRs on his installation are now attending the training to support his efforts.

Several Duty Holders have put all four modules in their training matrix as mandatory for all ESRs. This feedback shows that the training is effective in equipping ESRs to provide impactful change.

In fact, in a recent survey of ESRs having completed the training earlier in the year confirms the positive impact that the training has had on their installations. All delegates agreed or strongly agreed that they feel better equipped to fulfil their duties as an ESR and almost 90% of those have already made changes on their installation. Set with an armoury of new tools to help get ESRs more involved, it’s hoped that the training really will make a difference in managing risk.

For further information please visit: www.dnv.co.uk

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