OSA Magazine Logo

Effective Changes

Published: 03rd Jun 2013 in OSA Magazine

An overview

Training Oil and Gas workers is massive business. Government legislation and mandates from high up within the industry - oil companies, vessel managers, shipyards and service providers – require basic training for all staff offshore and on construction and maintenance sites.

The fluid nature of the industry workforce, however – that is, crew change-outs and rotations, and the sheer weight of numbers – makes the logistics of achieving 100% work at height competence a huge challenge.

Vessel managers choose between sending their staff to an onshore training centre and importing the trainer to the vessel itself, and having to deal with the associated pros and cons of each.

Need for work at height training

There are approximately 900 rigs and 150 floating production, storage and offloading vessels (FPSOs) currently in operation, or undergoing workovers worldwide. They all have tall structures which every crew member may potentially have to access as part of the working processes of the vessel, and to effect maintenance and repair.

In addition to this, there are approximately 180 rigs and tens of FPSOs currently under construction, predominantly in Korean and Singaporean shipyards, but also in China, Brazil and the Middle East, which involve a massive amount of manpower.

With falls from height being the biggest cause of industrial fatalities worldwide, work at height, work at height rescue and other associated training is in high demand.

Legislation and other driving forces

Legislation around Asia is demonstrating an increasing understanding of safe work at height and how to implement it. In Singapore, the government body responsible for workplace safety, Workplace Safety and Health Council (WSH), communicated closely with unions, industry and professional organisations to generate realistic guidelines in 2008.

They asked IRATA (Industrial Rope Aceess Trade Association) to review their Safe Working at Height Code of Practice – specifically the section on rope access – which demonstrates their level of commitment to establishing a global standard of working practise.

The comprehensive 56 page document covers everything from risk analysis and methods of reducing it, through equipment standards, care, usage to suspension trauma and rescue techniques. A further document, WSH 2018, was released in 2010 placing the onus on management to take responsibility for work at height safety:

“WSH professionals… drive WSH improvements beyond the minimum compliance with legislative requirements. They ensure that… systems in the shipyards are robust and up to date, through regular workplace inspections and in house audits…”

Thailand is another notable example. They recently issued a national training standard for fall arrest in the offshore oil and gas sector. The project was initiated by Thai Petroleum Training Institute (TPTI), which is a division of the equivalent of the Department of Minerals in the Thai Government. As with Singapore, they have involved training companies in this – K2 were contracted to write the draft standard.

Other South East Asian countries are taking up the baton, with regulators and enforcement engaging more fully with industry. In Malaysia this translates as a more specialised interest in the methods of working at height, such as rope access.

However serious governments are about safe working at height, an arguably more important driver is the oil industry itself. IRATA, the trade association that is now the global standard for the specialised form of work at height known as rope access, owes its very existence to Shell, who 15 years ago asked technicians to form an association and generate a written code of practise. They then added this as a requirement on all contracts involving rope access offshore, and the rest of the industry followed.

The story is testament to the power of top down industry changes that affect best practise worldwide.

Safety is of paramount importance in the drilling industry. Large oil companies such as Shell have always demanded a minimum level of basic safety training for all personnel at their downstream processing plants and on the upstream vessels they lease as part of the exploration and drilling process. In recent years, ho

wever, the advent of Competence Management Systems has meant a higher standard for basic safety training.

Oil companies, vessel managers, and increasingly their service providers, are now asking not only if people have been trained, but how their competence has been assessed. Crew members are expected to receive the training and demonstrate an ability to put the training into action. This is for both basic work at height and work at height rescue. This is no easy feat given the complex nature of the ideas involved.

Concepts crews need to know

The foundation of all work at height training is the international standards governing work at height. Trainers need to translate these into appropriate training for the work situation they are dealing with. Some of the areas they cover are listed below.

1. The Hierarchy of Risk Controls
• Elimination (removing the need)
• Substitution (use of replacements such as work platforms)
• Engineering controls (barriers or guard rails)
• Administrative Controls (e.g. Permit to Work measures)
• Appropriate PPE

2. The three forms of protection system applicable for working at height are:
• Work restraint – This is used on flat roofs and ledges to prevent access to areas where a fall could occur
• Work positioning – This involves PPE under tension to prevent a fall from height. The system is backed up with a secondary independent attachment
• Fall Arrest – The use of PPE so as to safely arrest any fall that may occur. It is intended as a safeguard should the worker lose control and halting their fall becomes appropriate 

3. An understanding of fall arrest

Fall arrest is the most common form of fall protection. The equipment is minimal and relatively simple to operate. Training implications vary depending on the location and work task.

The systems include a full body harness, which is designed to spread the force of the impact around the body, and other fall arrest PPE appropriate to the task – either an inertia reel, shock absorbing lanyard assembly or mobile fall arrest device.

It is crucial that personnel understand if and why the equipment is suitable. In the event of a fall, the twin lanyard system or other shock absorber will stretch to reduce the impact of the deceleration. This information is essential when designing the fall arrest system on any particular job, not least because swing back and swing down hazards carry their own risk of secondary impact, and thus injury to personnel.

4. Calculating the Fall Factor

It is important that the Fall Factor (FF) is kept to a minimum. It can be calculated using a simple formula:
Fall Factor (FF) = Length of fall
Length of lanyard

5. Provision for rescue

Anecdotal evidence suggests that an immobilised person suspended dorsally in a harness will begin to deteriorate after as little as four minutes, meaning that they need to be rescued as soon as possible. Personnel also need to be able to identify the symptoms of suspension trauma – light-headedness, nausea, paleness of skin, hot flushes and breathlessness – which can lead to coma and ultimately death.

6. Rescue plans and methods

These can vary from the use of a relatively simple lowering or raising rescue kit to complicated aerial tramway systems such as those employed by the coast guard and mountain rescue teams. The methods employed must be appropriate to the situation and competence of those involved, the techniques and equipment required should be identified in the pre-work risk assessment, self contained, light enough for one man to handle effectively and pre-rigged to allow for quick and efficient deployment.

Complex training logistics

There are well in excess of 1,000 drilling assets operating around the globe with many more in production. Crews on each vessel are in the hundreds. Most will operate on a rotation basis, meaning that you can at least double estimates of manpower working offshore at any one time. Even if the crews were stable, this would add up to tens of thousands of workers. Factor into this turnover of staff, especially at lower level positions and you begin to appreciate why there is a constant need for basic HSE training in the oil industry for offshore staff.

Drilling company in house training centres are generally not set up to deal with work at height and dropped object training, so many turn to specialist training companies to fulfil their HSE training needs. The question then becomes where to train.

Dedicated training centres are definitely an option. A relatively large company will have more than one purpose built facility which specialises in work at height, confined space and classroom based training. The advantages are a wide range of specially designed simulated practical scenarios, dedicated classroom training, and the option to book short courses at any time of year. For companies who operate a large distance from training centres such as these, however, transportation is a problem.

Training centre courses typically put around ten people through training and assessment at any one time. For basic work at height training, they will last no longer than two days. There are options to combine work at height with, for example, confined space to make the journey more worthwhile, but rig managers and OIMs (Offshore Installation Manager) still face the cost of flying crews in, and scheduling a crew of around 200.

Another possibility is to import the trainer to an onsite facility or unused vessel such as a stacked rig, and have crews travel a much shorter distance to receive training, although this is dependent on the availability of a suitable training area.

A third solution is for companies to import the trainer to a working rig and carry out theory and practical assessment during the crew members’ downtime. This solves the logistical problems of ensuring the safety competence of large crews, but involves its own set of particular challenges.

Getting through to offshore crews

Language is always an issue in the drilling industry. Crews on any vessel will come from a wide range of countries. Although English is the medium of communication across the industry as well as the international medium of delivery for training, the level of competence varies.

Trainers find this affects the way they deliver information in the classroom. They have to incorporate more demonstration in the theory classes and recruit ‘translators’ who are strong in English who can help those who are weaker to understand. The team based approach also helps with surmounting another large challenge of training onboard, which is motivating tired crew members.

Training delivery on a working asset means that you are catching people at one end of a 12 hour shift. Although theory classes tend to be scheduled in the morning, crew members still tend to be more tired with poorer concentration than their colleagues in the training centre. Asking them to focus for a four hour theory class is not easy because they are training in their rest time, with associated implications on their level of motivation.

The rapport between trainer and trainees becomes vital in situations like these. A good trainer looks to engage the group and make learning an active process with a more creative training delivery. They should increase the proportion of group and hands on exercises, like brainstorming, equipment checks and group risk assessments, in order to energise the class. They could also build up group morale by allowing groups to elect their own leaders, or bring small prizes such as T-shirts and thumb drives into the classroom. The emphasis should be on student involvement in their learning.

Finding time to train

Working offshore can be tough on the trainer. Rigs and other vessels have limitations on Personnel On Board (POB). Some assets only have bedspace for one trainer rather than the more usual two. This slows down the practical assessments to half speed.

Recognised industry standards dictate strict ratios of trainer to student in practical training situations, which can be very slow going with a large offshore crew. Set this against the strict time limitation of the rotation – the time each crew has before they are relieved by the next crew – and fitting everyone in can be difficult.

Even with a two to four week window to complete the courses, trainers can find themselves working extended split shifts to cope with the volume of delegates, and schedule in extra rest periods to recover. Having no back up means more pressure on the trainer as well as having no cover for the inevitable number of crew members that miss their training slot because operations are a priority on a working asset. It sometimes means a return visit to mop up the crew members who for various reasons do not complete their training first time around.

A day long theory course is divided up into two shorter sessions given on consecutive days offshore. In some ways this is helpful because delegates revisit the same concepts twice and so are more likely to retain them. Splitting the time, however, also means an increased risk of losing class members on one of the two days.

Onboard duties and unexpected situations mean that trainers can lose up to 10% of their class members on one of the two days. These delegates will be recommended for further training – which is the alternative to being passed – because they did not complete the course. This compares with a usual 100% first time pass rate at training centres onshore.

Rig managers’ solution to this is to have the trainer come back for the next working period of that rotation to mop up the remaining students, perhaps reasoning that even a repeat visit is cheaper and easier than sending their staff onshore.

A sea change

More and more companies are adopting Competency Management Systems. The drilling industry is exacting ever higher standards when it comes to basic knowledge and application of safe working practises. While getting the numbers through is a huge challenge in a sector which has such a high rate of crew rotation and transfer, managers are becoming ever more creative when it comes to ensuring work at height best practise.

Importing the trainer rather than exporting the crews has many benefits but involves a cultural change in the way training is seen. Finding the time and space on a working asset to ensure delegates are engaged with their learning is not straightforward, but the rewards are potentially huge. 

Published: 03rd Jun 2013 in OSA Magazine


Kevin R Monaghan

Kevin Monaghan is an industry professional with more than 30 years’ experience delivering and managing training in the UK, Holland, UAE, Qatar and Singapore. He is an experienced consultant with extensive training experience in numerous disciplines, as well as being an experienced consultant in the field of ISO 9001, ISO 14000 and OSHAS 18000.

Kevin is the Group Training Manager for K2 Specialist Services, headquartered in Singapore. The company is a vertically integrated project service provider to the oil and marine industries, as well as being the multi-accredited leading provider of work at height training in the Asia Pacific region.

K2 has operations centres in Korea, Brazil, UAE and South Africa, and dedicated training centres in Singapore, Korea, Thailand and Malaysia which specialise in work at height training. It is also an approved training centre for the American Safety & Health Institute.


Contact Us Events List Terms and Conditions Privacy Policy Sitemap Maintenance