Skills for safer future, 30 years since Piper Alpha

Opito chief executive John McDonald
Opinion by John McDonaldOpito CEO

It’s almost 30 years since the Piper Alpha disaster shocked the world; the devastating events on July 6, 1988 will never be forgotten. In the wake of the incident, the oil and gas industry collectively vowed to do everything it could to protect the safety of its people and prevent a cataclysm like this from ever happening in the future.

Since then, huge efforts to improve safety have been made across the board and there’s no doubting the commitment from individual companies, industry organisations and the workforce to improve internal safety processes and procedures.

Adopting common global training standards and engaging the essential support to apply them uniformly across the industry is an ongoing challenge, but one that the sector is dealing with together. Currently, more than 250,000 personnel train to Opito standards annually in 45 countries.

And while there have been several tragic incidents since Piper Alpha, most notably Deepwater Horizon, any accident offshore drives home the fact that the industry operates in some of the harshest, most hostile, and therefore hazardous environments for workers in the world.

Bringing a consistent approach to basic safety training, where every person has confidence that their fellow worker has the same level of safety skills and knowledge as they have, remains the focus for Opito.

The UK’s most widely adopted safety critical courses are the Basic Offshore Safety Induction Emergency Training (BOSIET) and the Minimum Industry Safety Training (MIST). BOSIET was introduced 20 years ago and as of last year the classroom element can now be undertaken online as an alternative, with learners then attending a training centre for verification and the mandatory practical session.

MIST became available in 2008 for UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) workers. Along with its international, sister-standard for those outside of the UK (IMIST), it is one of the most successful safety critical courses undertaken around the world.

These leading-edge standards are among the 114 which have been developed by Opito on behalf of the sector and are reviewed by industry work groups on a regular basis to ensure they continue to meet best practice. They range from basic and specialist emergency response training standards to workplace competence assessment standards for safety critical roles.

However, the sector is forever evolving and to keep up with change and ensure our people remain safe and equipped, there is much work ahead of us.

As energy companies continue to push the limits of design to maximise production, they have invested in new technologies and processes well beyond what could have been imagined 30 years ago.

We’re already seeing the landscape shifting with an increase in the use of AI, digitisation, and automated processes. In some instances, these innovations will help reduce human risk, for example drones carrying out inspection campaigns offshore.

This coming Thursday, we will have a much stronger indication of how these advancements are likely to impact on current workers’ roles, as the results from the anticipated UKCS Workforce Dynamics review are published.

Opito, in partnership with RGU’s Oil & Gas Institute, began this important research work last September in line with Vision 2035, which aims to raise billions of pounds for the UK economy from the sustained future of the energy sector.

The review will help to identify what the labour pool might look like over the next 20 years and highlights areas where changes to skillsets may be required. This will assist us in moving forward strategically, developing and preparing the current workforce and at the same time, ensuring the future generation has the right education, skills and competency to lead the sector onwards.

Regardless of technological advances to support operations or workforce training methods, the nature of our industry dictates that there will always be some human risk. Therefore, safety must always remain our focus. It’s how we prepare and support our people to stay safe that will ultimately dictate our success.