Over recent years, the National Skills Academy Process Industries has been looking at the underlying skills issues around a number of major catastrophes, including the Buncefield accident, as well as refinery explosions in North and South America which have cost many lives.
The Process Safety Management (PSM) programme has involved the Academy in working with senior industry leaders and stakeholder bodies to develop standards of leadership and management around process safety. These organisations include the Health and Safety Executive, Unite the Union, the Chemical Industries Association, the Tank Storage Association and the UK Petroleum Industries Association – each representing a significant number of employers in the process sector.
This standards-based approach is really starting to resonate: we have been encouraged by the take-up in 2012 which has seen around 600 industry leaders and senior managers from 100 of the most hazardous sites in the UK investing their time in ‘process safety leadership’ training courses. However, it should be noted that with around 1300 high hazard sites in the UK there is still a long way to go.
We started offering a two-day ‘process safety management foundations’ (PSMF) course for operational managers and, supervisors late in 2012, and interest in that is growing .In 2013 we will be rolling that same standards-based approach to provide a licensed in-house training package that will support operators and maintenance people in the industry.
The PSM programme will provide the opportunity to engage personnel at every level in industry to build a common understanding of the issues, raise the profile of PSM and build good practice. This includes addressing specific shortfalls in the skills, knowledge and competence of contractors coming onto hazardous sitWe are now working with industry to really home in on the key issues in collaboration with our parent organisation Cogent SSC – the Sector Skills Council responsible for apprenticeship frameworks, occupational standards and the development of qualifications.
Our work in the area of process safety offers a different and very much industry-led approach to developing a targeted response to specific skills and competence requirements in the process industries.
The PSM solutions based on providing training standards basically mean that you can have a deliverable, focused, short-term course to deal with a specific need. This can then be followed up with an organisation to see what actions they have put in place and what improvements have been achieved.
The approach supports and complements structured, long-term investment in training through appropriate frameworks such as for qualifications and apprenticeships. The Academy can work with employers using these standards to benchmark their training so they know that they are delivering the same standard of training internally as is being delivered by training organisations.
There are many ways to deal with skills issues, but when it comes to dealing with the key operational issues, the success of the PSM programme suggests that where there is a regulatory driver, companies will prioritise investment to address an issue.
For instance, companies in the process sector have had to comply with the Machinery Directive and the REACH Directive, which have imposed strict requirements on organisations that handle specific chemicals over a certain volume.
But when it comes to the rational application of skills development to fulfil a core business need there is still that disconnect. This is something that industry has got to start looking at holistically in terms of what their actual skills needs are: it is clear that action is and always will be taken to respond to regulatory requirements, but much more is going to have to be done if industry is going to respond as effectively to the cliff edge of an ageing workforce.
We have got to see that investment; investing in new people and succession planning for the medium-to-long term. Whether they are young people or new entrants from a mature employment pool, acquiring new resources is essential for the business to grow.
For good reasons, the PSM programme has been driven by a regulatory requirement, but the same principles should apply when we look at other areas. Where there is an issue that industry is concerned with, we know that they are prepared to work together with stakeholders and partners such as Cogent and the Skills Academy to come up with effective solutions.