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Oil & gas group urges competency ahead of compliance

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A study by the Robert Gordon University and sponsored by Aberdeen Drilling Consultants has found that 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.

The report entitled “Tick Safety not Boxes”, was commissioned by the industries skills and training standards body OPITO. Over 65% of the respondents said the current focus on compliance in companies could lead to complacency.

The research, which is part of OPITO’s efforts to improve global safety and competency standards, 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 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. 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 show that oil and gas companies around the world understand that being compliant is not enough to improve workforce safety and skills.

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 was some disagreement as to the extent to which the Deepwater Horizon, Macondo tragedy had pressured companies into moving from a compliance to a competence based model. Around 46% felt that it had and 18% disagreed. A number argued that the incident had resulted in highlighting both.

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.”

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.