Workforce denied the opportunity to move into offshore renewables unless they undertake what they claim is unnecessary, expensive safety training. Jeremy Cresswell investigates.
North Sea oil & gas workers trying to get into offshore renewables say they are being obliged to take offshore safety training that repeats what they are already versed in, moreover, to a higher level they claim.
Some are up arms about it, even to the point of letters being penned to local MPs. Jake Molloy, offshore leader for the Trade Union is angry and David Doig, group CEO of the UK’s Offshore Petroleum Training Organisation (OPITO), believes common baseline standards could have been sorted out years ago.
Indeed, Molloy is building a dossier of notes from RMT rank-and-file members who have been experiencing safety training-related issues when looking for work in UK North Sea offshore renewables.
They claim the training they would have to take is inferior to North Sea oil & gas standards and expensive.
In June 2010, Energy’s editor and Doig called for common baseline safety training standards between upstream offshore oil & gas and maritime wind.
The approach would be modular and take account of fundamental differences linked to power generation as opposed to oil & gas production.
There had been some early dialogue between OPITO and the British Wind Energy Association (now Renewable UK).
Indeed, Energy understands it was the BWEA that approached OPITO and that was around 2007. It was looking for advice and guidance of how to build a standards model that had proven successful for the oil & gas industry.
Workshops were held and even take-up of the oil & gas industry’s Vantage safety passport system was discussed.
The dialogue went as far as articulating the idea of building a renewables standard framework which would allow a cross mapping and removal of training duplication between the renewable and oil & gas sectors.
But, without standards, this could not be done as there is no baseline measurement.
Then talks petered out.
In the May 2010 edition of Energy following a conversation, Energy and Doig said there was “an urgent need for the offshore renewables industry to establish a common set of safety competence standards based on the North Sea oil & gas model”.
He told Energy then that there was little sign of a serious attempt at a collective approach by the new industry and that RenewableUK appeared to have gone cool on the idea of taking its cue from OPITO.
Doig said too that he was baffled by RUK’s attitude, especially given the help that OPITO had rendered to the trade body’s predecessor and a number of emerging UK offshore renewables players … all based on the oil & gas competency model … coupled with an apparently positive dialogue a couple or three years earlier during the BWEA era.
He said he had written to RUK’s then CEO, Maria McCaffery expressing his concerns about the setting of safety-related competency standards and rumours that the trade body was going to plough its own furrow in this regard.
Energy reported Doig as saying: “What we have is a fragmented approach with companies doing their own thing because there isn’t a common standard that they can all sign up to.
“This means that workers will have to be retrained as they shift from job-to-job on different projects. This will lead to duplication of training. And in about five or 10 years, someone will ask why can’t they sort it out?”
It is 2016 and the Doig prophesy appears to have come true. The oil & gas industry is in crisis and the renewables sector needs skilled people, yet there appear to be significant barriers to people moving between the sectors flexibly.
He explained that, following the May 2010 article when both OPITO and Energy were given short shrift by RUK, discussions were eventually re-started.
It was later heard that RUK had decided to adapt the OPITO model but without further dialogue about how to build something workable
Summing up the current situation Doig said: “The well-established oil and gas workforce has the skills, knowledge and experience needed to seamlessly migrate and support the renewables sector as it grows. While it’s by no means too late to be fit for the future, an opportunity has been missed to build a proper skills framework and make the UK’s energy workforce flexible and reactive to the needs of today.”
While preparing this article, we attempted to contact RUK on no less than six occasions over a period of several days, but neither the head of communications, Robert Norris, nor deputy CEO Maf Smith, who was twice sent notes through the Linkedin system, responded.
So we got in touch with the Global Wind Organisation as it is understood to play a pivotal role in encouraging the setting of standards, though these are not mandatory. However, on its website there is a “Joint Statement regarding mutual recognition of Training Standards between RUK and GWO”.
Our enquiry drew a prompt response from Jakob Lau Holst, chief operating officer of the Danish Wind Industry Association and who is also secretary general at the GWO.
“We’ve heard of these complaints. One of these workers put a legal procedure against the Global Wind Organisation and also against the UK Health & Safety Executive and it was dismissed completely,” said Holst.
As for the lack of a co-ordinated approach between the two industries pan North Sea to achieve common baseline safety standards . . . not counting the obvious differences, Holst said: “All the standards of the GWO have been developed without reference to other (North Sea industry) training. None of that other training addresses the risks that are associated with working on turbines.”
The fact that both industries shared a common set of physical operating conditions in the North Sea appeared to cut no ice with GWO’s secretary general.
“Yes, you would have thought, but that’s not what the risk assessments say. The heart of the matter is that we need to have courses that address the risks that are not addressed by other training,” said Holst.
“In particular, one of the courses is sea survival. A lot of the content of this is about the access and egress between a vessel and a wind turbine.”
That said, Holst appeared to accept that the one fundamental difference between the wind sea survival course and the Boseit was access/egress and helicopter survival. The rest was common.
On the subject of first aid training and lack of credit given by the wind industry to oil & gas trained workers, not least “diver medic”, Holst pointed out that GWO does not have a mandate to tell its member companies what they should do in terms of training, including recognition. That was their call, including whether or not they used GWO’s own training standards.
“It is always up to the (windfarm) duty-holder to decide,” he said. “Of course there could be a situation where a duty-holder or company responsible for safety on-site might say diver medic is fine, depending on that person’s job function. But it is always up to the companies to decide.”
Holst added that there was nothing in the North Sea wind industry that resembled the UKCS’s mandatory Boseit and HUET style training.
He acknowledged that the time may be ripe for a trans-North Sea forum between offshore oil & gas and the wind industry in a bid to find common ground on safety training and help with workforce flexibility. But he warned that the GWO didn’t have the resources to lead off on such an initiative.