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Managing the safety chain: the management of workforce safety and competency in the oil and gas industry.

Marcella, Rita; Rowlands, Hayley; Pirie, Tracy


Rita Marcella

Hayley Rowlands

Tracy Pirie


Aberdeen Business School, part of Robert Gordon University, have conducted multiple interviews in nine operating and contracting companies across the globe to gain insight into the management of workforce safety and competency, with a view of identifying best practices and innovations in the industry which can be shared with others. This report details the findings from the research, which was conducted between June and September 2012. This report includes profiles of the companies who participated in the interviews, followed by discussions focused on strategy, management practices and influences or challenges to the effective management of safety and competency. In total 42 interviews were conducted, and participants were open and honest when speaking about safety and competency management in their companies. Strategies amongst operators and contractors are varied; they are developed to suit individual organisational needs and goals, with a wide array of methods used to communicate these strategies to the workforce. These methods are focused on taking a clear and simple approach directed with constant staff engagement. Open communication between operators and contractors is essential during strategy setting and implementation. This implementation is then tracked through evaluations of company performance and regular reviews of annual plans compared against KPIs. Competency management systems should not be too bureaucratic but also not too simple; particular attention should be paid to ensure the time and resources required for competency management do not become unmanageable. Effective assessment of workforce competence is achieved through the assessment process being recorded from planning to certification. Challenges were identified in ensuring workforce buy-in to competency management, which can be overcome through continuous communication with the workforce and supporting individuals through the process by using trained verifiers to aid the writing and evidence gathering process. Operators effectively manage their contractor workforce through clearly defined contract arrangements, regular contractor auditing and by using internal assurance processes for the selection and management of contracting companies. Instilling a culture of continuous improvement is required for the effective management of workforce safety and competency, with workforce involvement in this being paramount. The regulators role in continuous improvement is to identify industry wide skill gaps and encourage continuous development. In regions where regulation is less developed companies seek international affiliations as they command stronger requirements for safety and competency issues. Third party accreditations were held by the majority of companies interviewed, such as ISO, SQA, NVQ and OPITO. The value goals sought from holding these ranged from ensuring compliance to driving business, and to enhance reputation and credibility. The companies interviewed were felt to be leading in their approach to the management of workforce safety and competency. The benefits of becoming a leader were identified as gaining increased improvement and sustainability of business performance and reputation, and increased motivation of the workforce as well as greater standardisation in a global industry. Being a leader not only encourages innovation in current staff but also attracts competent and motivated people to the company. Interviewees were asked to rate the level of influence they felt geography, culture, nationality and religion could have on the development of a safe and competent workforce. Geography was felt to have some influence, as this could dictate what training would be required as well as what regulations should be followed. It was however felt that organisational culture and processes should override any geographic influences. All interviewees felt that culture would influence safety and competency development to some extent. However the creation of a strong learning culture though continuous workforce engagement teamed with the provision of training and a continuous display of management commitment help overcome cultural barriers. Nationality was perceived to have less of an impact than culture, although language barriers were cited as the most common impediment to achieving understanding amongst the workforce. The use of translators accustomed to local cultures and practices helps to overcome this. Religion was felt by some interviewees to have little influence on the development of a safe and competent workforce, whilst others felt it could influence peoples belief in their ability to influence or control external factors. These barriers can be broken down though education, and providing evidence to the workforce of the benefits of being competent and acting in a safe manner. In addressing the challenges and influences on safety and competency development, employees should be encouraged to have a positive attitude, be willing to learn, and given the confidence to point out when something or someone is unsafe. Employers should continually demonstrate their commitment to staff development to achieve the high standards required. Finally all interview participants were asked about the future of safety and competency, and what they felt would help improve this globally. Suggestions centred on the development of common systems and globally recognised certifications and accreditations, the greater exchange of ideas across the industry, more involvement of people in the development of systems, greater emphasis on personal responsibility when it comes to being safe and competent, and a long term commitment from the industry as a whole to the training and development of people to meet future industry demands. Safety and competency management is about going beyond compliance, investing in the creation and development of organisational cultures through continuous workforce engagement. Avoiding complacency through a continuous cycle of self-reflection, and consistently demonstrating management commitment are essential for ensuring a safe and competent workforce.


MARCELLA, R., ROWLANDS, H. and PIRIE, T. 2012. Managing the safety chain: the management of workforce safety and competency in the oil and gas industry. Unpublished internal document. OPITO International FZ LLC.

Report Type Research Report
Publication Date Oct 31, 2012
Deposit Date Sep 16, 2015
Publicly Available Date Sep 16, 2015
Public URL


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