It is an important piece of work … the Aberdeen Business School-Robert Gordon University study covering the safety attitudes of senior leaders in 60 companies across the globe.
Yes, the client is OPITO International and, yes, the UK’s Offshore Petroleum Industry Training Organisation is seeking to grow its international footprint, but it is very important to get at least some idea of how the process of internationalisation impacts on emergency response and basic safety requirements in the oil and gas industry.
The “Beyond the Barricades” research conducted by Professor Rita Marcella and colleague Tracy Pirie and their findings relate to the barriers that exist for companies in achieving consistency and effectiveness in training delivery, competency and behaviour change.
Their findings are in many ways unsurprising and, to a certain extent, disturbing too. They point to an industry that apparently wants common standards but which is more reactive than proactive in its approach to HSE issues.
In a nutshell, the Marcella/Pirie work says:
Most health and safety and emergency response (HS/ER) training enhancements had been developed reactively in response to high-profile incidents and/or legislation change.
Only one company cited its moral obligation to employees as being a driver for training programme development.
There was believed to be significant variation in training standards regionally with regional standards largely felt to be of a lower calibre than international standards.
There are difficulties in assuring consistency of training quality globally due to the myriad of standards current in the industry.
Competency is not necessarily being delivered by training, with training not infrequently being seen as a “tick-box” exercise.
Employees at every level need to take ownership and engage with HS/ER philosophy at all times.
Leaders need to be seen to embrace its importance, guiding their employees into a safer future working environment.
There should be extensive communication and consultation with all key stakeholders involved in the industry globally in order to ensure that a framework of common global standards be developed that is effective, consistently applicable and capable of independent and objective benchmarking.
The findings point to an “overwhelming support for the development of global guidelines or frameworks in relation to HS/ER training”. However, it was very strongly articulated that these must be flexible to the local operating environment, and should be demonstrably international, not just an extension of UK-based models.
The last point is especially important. Other countries and their companies can often take a different approach and may not take kindly to the imposition of standards from outside.
The research lights on the BP-operated Macondo blow-out, stating that the Gulf of Mexico disaster “shone a spotlight on industry performance”.
In total, 60 companies with headquarters and operations across the globe took part in interviews lasting from 30 minutes to over one hour. They ranged from mega to micro in size, embracing both petroleum companies and the supply chain.
The interviews are described in the report as being “highly revealing” with the majority of respondents prepared to talk openly about the issues within their organisations and the industry as a whole, although they were more guarded about specific failed training programmes.
One manager said: “Events such as (Brent) Spar, Piper Alpha and Gulf of Mexico have communicated incompetencies and inconsistencies of our industry’s HS/ER (health and safety/emergency response) culture to a global audience and of course in some cases directly impacted share value for specific companies involved in these incidents.”
But while there was agreement that HS/ER training is highly important, even crucial, interviewees were “far less confident” that the training was delivered well.
What did surprise the researchers was the “overwhelming significance” of high-profile incidents like Macondo and Piper Alpha with regard to spurring action.
“The degree of importance these seem to have would appear to be disproportionate and would not be reflected in decisions about other kinds of staff development or training programme, such as technical training, where decisions would typically be made on other grounds.
“This theme of reacting to or reflecting on incidents was one that pervaded the interviews.”
As one interviewee said: “You’ve had an accident, you look at the analysis, find out what caused it, what would have prevented it, or if an accident did happen what would have stopped it getting out of hand. And unfortunately, a lot of the training has been developed because people have been killed.”
When asked about examples of successful training initiatives, many of the respondents talked about the need to base standards around the local context of the regions in which they operated, with evolving the scenarios used to keep programme content fresh and interactive. Others spoke about successful programmes being based on competency approaches.
Macella and Pirie report that when the interviewers sought to explore the success measures used in evaluating training participant feedback – a very subjective measure – was most frequently cited.
A significant number also talked about the impact of training on employee behaviour. However, respondents “found it difficult” to provide evidence of how behavioural/cultural changes were measured objectively.
It emerged that companies use three major approaches in measuring training effectiveness – incident reporting, review of team performance and audit.
“There were also a significant number who openly acknowledged that they did not gather metrics, found measurement too difficult to quantify and/or that they felt that metrics could be improved, in particular in terms of gathering evidence of less tangible value adds of improving HS/ER performance. This would appear to be an important area for further research,” say Marcella and Pirie.
It emerged too that measuring the costs of HS/ER training was difficult for most with the only ‘hard’ measures’ being the actual costs of delivery and allocated staff hours spent in training, while others based it around the budgets they have in place.
And when asked to give an example of HS/ER training that had failed, the majority identified failure as a result of poorly executed or inflexible delivery methods.
Lack of personal engagement was also seen to be an issue. Interestingly, however, and contrary to perceived wisdom, emerging markets were cited by a few interviewees as being unexpectedly positive about HS/ER enhancements.
When asked about major enhancements they would wish to see in HS/ER training, participants focused particularly on increasing employee engagement – the same issue that emerged so strongly post Piper Alpha and which trade unions sought to press strongly.
As for the merits of localisation, Marcella and Pirie identified concerns over potential lack of consistency.
“How can management be assured that the equivalent learning outcomes have been achieved.”
“The majority of operating companies in the oil and gas industry are spread globally and it cannot be acceptable from a corporate or legal perspective to have variations in HS/ER competency standards regardless of local industry practice or guidelines.
“Localisation may be desirable but should not detract from overall consistency of approach. Furthermore, many interviewees highlighted the financial burden the need for localisation of approach placed upon companies with the need for duplication of training for the various regions, which a global standard may help to circumvent.
On balance, the majority of respondents felt that uniform industry standards would be beneficial to their organisation. Identified benefits that would accrue from a globally standardised approach include:
Common standards/consistency across all international locations, resulting in improved quality of training for employees.
Improved capabilities of emergency response personnel.
Increased ability to trade globally.
Ability to benchmark.
Greater capacity for organisations to assess requirements of jobs/resources.
A small number of participants suggested that they would prefer to see a global standard being referred to as a guideline. The word standard was felt to indicate an inability to be flexible.
“In effect, for interviewees consistency in training and competency was regarded as the ultimate goal, but it was felt that progress towards consistency was being both helped and hindered by the variety and complexity of existing standards – helped because these do provide external measurable benchmarks and hindered because there is too little standardisation in how these standards can be brought together and in how they are applied across the industry as a whole.
“This might be regarded as the central dilemma at the heart of the current project. OPITO is absolutely committed to the development of a set of common standards for the industry globally.”