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Review of guidelines 30 years on; SAFETY.

Byline: Mark Lammey

Revamped guidelines on offshore safety representatives' roles will be unveiled - 30 years on from the introduction of flagship North Sea regulations.

The rules came into force on September 18, 1989, in the aftermath of the Piper Alpha disaster of the previous year.

They give workers the right to elect safety reps from among their numbers to ensure the entire workforce is formally involved in promoting health and safety.

But it has been claimed that oil and gas companies are failing to comply with the Offshore Installations (Safety Representatives and Safety Committees) Regulations 1989.

Trade union boss Jake Molloy recently complained of safety reps being disadvantaged and treated unfairly by oil companies for carrying out their duties.

Mr Molloy said the RMT union had reported these cases to the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and suggested the time was right to review the legislation to empower reps offshore.

An offshore safety body will launch the revised guidelines at an event on September 18 at P&J Live in Aberdeen.

Steve Rae, newly appointed executive director of Step Change in Safety, said one of his key visions on joining the organisation was to improve engagement with reps and help them rediscover their sense of purpose.

Mr Rae believes safety reps have a crucial role to play in preventing accidents, but warned their knowledge and expertise was underused.

He touched on the "phenomenal" turnover of people taking on these roles and said there needed to be a better understanding across industry about what the position entails.

Mr Rae, a Piper Alpha survivor, said: "The turnover rate is not because people do not want to be safety reps, but because when people move from location to location they have to reapply and go through exercises and training.

"There is a raft of work to do before safety reps are properly tooled up to do the job adequately.

"There needs to be a better understanding of the challenges and we are going to cover that on the 30-year anniversary.

"The guidelines are going to be revised to provide much clearer expectations around how the relationship works with asset managers, site supervisors and reps.

"It will take a willingness and desire to change how it works now, in order to make that a success."

Mr Rae, who joined Step Change from decommissioning firm Well-Safe Solutions in July, views regulations as a "blunt instrument" and thinks much depends on the way organisations interpret them.

He said it was important that the attendance mix is right on the day to ensure an effective roll out of the guidelines, which are supported by HSE.

To make the launch really meaningful, he wants to see a room full of safety reps and offshore installation and site safety managers.

It's clear that Mr Rae is determined and excited by the opportunity to make a big difference in his new role, which he described as a perfect fit.

He is no stranger to Step Change, having first got involved in the leadership team in 2007.

The member-led organisation was set up a decade earlier by the trade union associations, in line with the Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) strategy to reduce North Sea injury rates by up to 50%.

Step Change became independent from OGUK in 2015 in a bid to eliminate confusion over roles and functions.

The body has been instrumental in delivering industry changing projects and guidance.

In his first interview since taking up the reins at Step Change, Mr Rae addressed the subject of hydrocarbon releases (HCRs).

HSE energy director Chris Flint took the North Sea industry to task last year when, in a stronglyworded letter, he ordered operators to explain how they would reduce leaks.

Mr Flint warned that while improvements were being made, several releases in recent years had come "perilously close to disaster".

In June, he told EV that OGUK and Step Change would come up with an action plan to address the issue.

Mr Rae said the two organisations would work on the plan in the second half of this year but, for now, are reviewing where their jurisdictions lie.

He said: "There will be grey areas where we know we have to collaborate. It has been a positive discussion.

"Step Change and OGUK have prominent positions in the industry and it is important that we have an excellent working relationship and can combine our efforts."

Injecting some renewed vigour into efforts to prevent leaks can only be a good thing, particularly in light of the latest HSE figures for the UK oil and gas industry.

Released last month, they showed that dangerous occurrences - incidents with potential to cause serious injury or death - totalled 235 in 2018, up from 217 the year before.

Four major hydrocarbon releases were recorded - the most since 2013, while total releases, including those classified as "minor" and "significant", sat at 112.

Mr Rae said the sector had to reduce all types of releases, not just major ones.

"Industry has very mature assets that have robust assurance programmes in place but they're aged and vulnerable and we need to be mindful of that," he said.

"Despite ongoing efforts to maintain them, there will be surprises and we need to be ready.

"We have to continue to be in a mode where we are aware of the vulnerability around these systems. "The older we get, the more checkups we need to have."

One of Mr Rae's many objectives for Step Change is to get training technology developers more involved in its forums.

He feels they are not well represented and wants to work more closely with them - and the equipment they invest in.

Digital technology could be gamechanging at a time when companies are having to pay serious attention to the abilities of workers to do their jobs in hazardous spaces.

Direct employment in the sector sank to 30,400 in 2018 from 41,300 in 2014, according to OGUK's latest workforce report.

That same study said recruitment was picking up again.

However, the industry is not the same as the one people left during the downturn.

Mr Rae is concerned that a lot of unwritten knowledge and experience departed with those who won't come back.

The challenge is to make sure that same experience and knowledge is relearned in a timely and effective manner.

Digital technology can help the next generation of graduates and apprentices who prefer swiping or scrolling to turning pages.

They need to be catered for, but that does not mean the more senior, grizzled workers who rely on the tools that got the North Sea industry through its first 50 years can be left behind.

What's more, not all shiny devices can be taken to the worksite, as they pose a safety risk.

Mr Rae said industry provides fantastic training, but feels passionately that competency must be more effectively tested at the worksite itself. "That's really where workers learn and gain knowledge, by working with others and gaining site specific understanding," he said.

"Some of the activities we need to assure happen only once a year and we need to be in a place where we can undertake that assurance far more effectively."

Mr Rae made a point of going offshore regularly during his oil career, which spans 30-plus years and includes spells in Houston and stints with drilling contractors like Noble and Archer.

"Offshore is where you really get a feel for your business," he said. "There are definitely members and senior managers in this basin who are of the same mind as me."

He is keen to see leaders on the beach get more involved in the offshore part of their business. To that end, Step Change plans to reprise, in some guise, the Boots on for Safety initiative, which aimed to strengthen connections by encouraging senior management to visit the front line and talk to workers.

Another big item on Mr Rae's to-do list is the creation of a workgroup comprising offshore installation managers (OIMs), which has been missing from Step Change's portfolio.

He said: "If we can create a meaningful OIM network across industry, where they also sit at times with safety reps, then we will have a very powerful network that is actually offshore and does not necessarily depend on onshore teams leading the way.

"An OIM network would be crucial to getting through our priorities for the next couple of years and onwards.

"Some companies have their own OIM networks, but I feel sharing needs to be done across company assets.

"That's something I'm really interested in developing."

Step Change and OGUK have prominent positions in the industry and it is important that we have an excellent working relationship and can combine our efforts

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REPS ROLE DEFINED: Steve Rae, executive director of Step Change in Safety. Picture by Chris Sumner
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Publication:The Press and Journal (Aberdeen,Scotland)
Geographic Code:0NORT
Date:Sep 2, 2019
Words:1475
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