Implementing HES&S Training in the Oil & Gas Industry: A Brief Overview

In general, most companies use a combination of classroom and e-learning delivery methods.

Health, Environmental, Safety and Security (HES&S) training is accorded high priority in the oil and gas industry because of the inherently hazardous nature of operations. Recent events, however, have heightened the importance of ensuring that HES&S training programs not only are comprehensive in scope, but also are implemented effectively and efficiently. It is therefore important that a well-defined process for identifying training needs (called a Training Needs Assessment) and a method of managing, tracking, and administrating the HES&S training requirements (called a Learning Content Management System) are in place.

Training Needs Assessment
Generally speaking, two main drivers help to identify training requirements and define the scope of an HES&S training curriculum, namely, internal and external.

The external drivers of training are government regulations promulgated by numerous federal, state, and local regulatory agencies (e.g., OSHA, EPA, DOT, BOEMRE, USCG, etc.) that have a specific training mandate contained within. An example of a useful guide is the Training Requirements in OSHA Standards and Training Guidelines, which outlines the training mandated in the OSHA General Industry, Shipyard, and Construction regulations. Another example of a useful guide to external requirements is API RP75 (Recommended Practice for Development of a Safety and Environmental Management Program for Offshore Operations and Facilities), which was mandated by the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, Regulation and Enforcement (BOEMRE) following the Gulf of Mexico Macondo incident of April 2010. API RP75 requires that "initial" and "periodic" training be provided to employees and contractors on operating procedures, safe work practices, and emergency response and control. In addition, this standard requires that offshore operations and maintenance personnel receive training on safety and anti-pollution devices, crane operation and maintenance, well control, and hydrogen sulfide, as appropriate.

Typically, the training mandates will describe the subject matter to be included in the training, the employees that the training should target, and the frequency at which the employees should be trained (e.g., initial, as needed, every 24 months, etc.). In some cases, the regulation even will specify which training delivery method should be used for initial or first-time training, for example, classroom or web-based training (WBT), depending on the life-critical nature of the subject matter.

Internal drivers are organizational commitments made with regard to approved standards, HES&S beliefs, and expectations. Many companies in the oil and gas industry have developed internal training standards in order to drive consistency by providing a guideline or definition that represents a requirement minimum. Some of these standards have a training mandate as a component and in many cases will help drive training course development. Examples of internal HES&S training standards include but are not limited to safe driving, drug and alcohol policy compliance, management of change, contractor safety management, behavior-based safety program, risk assessment methodologies, and root cause analysis for incident investigation.

Training Program Development
There are many ways in which the HES&S curriculum can be arranged within the organization's Learning Management System (LMS). In organizations that have varied areas of specialization, one such option is to break the HES&S curriculum down into two parts or teams. The idea is to assign courses to a number of named "Teams" and then assign employees to the appropriate team.

When the LMS has been integrated with a Learning Content Management System (LCMS), each employee's training plan is automatically populated with the appropriate training assignments. The teams can be broken down further into "Broad Teams" and "Special Teams." Broad Teams will contain the primary training curriculums or broad "buckets" of required training that consist of both classroom and WBT courses. The curriculums on these teams are used to address the basic awareness level requirements affecting large groups of people. Special Teams will contain specialized "buckets" of required training used to address more specialized training needs affecting smaller groups of employees.

While other criteria can be used, employee assignment to Broad Teams is most often determined by the use of three criteria: job title, department, and work area. All employees are assigned to one Broad Team but may be assigned to multiple Special Teams, depending on their specific job duties. In some instances, as in the case of an office-bound administrative employee, Special Team membership may not be necessary.

Employee assignment to the teams can be managed using a manual or automated process. A common manual process employs the use of a survey questionnaire that is sent via e-mail to the employee's first-line supervisor whenever he moves into or out of an existing department, job title, or work area. The survey questionnaire will contain a series of questions the supervisor must answer in order to help the Learning Support Specialist or Training Administrator determine the proper training team assignments. If your Learning Management System has an Auto Team Load program, this program can import employee information from an SAP System to automatically add or delete employees from teams based on a combination of criteria consisting of department, job title, and work area determined by the system administrator. Some Learning Management Systems employ the use of five or six fields, giving the system administrator the flexibility to add additional criteria.

Training Delivery
Delivery of HES&S training requirements may be accomplished through a combination of classroom instructor-led courses and e-learning courses (e.g., WBT, CBT, video conferencing, etc.). Each mode of delivery has its strengths and weaknesses.

Classroom training provides a more interactive learning experience for the trainee. It offers an opportunity for the trainee to learn from other employees, as well as the instructor. It offers the flexibility to use an external or internal instructor. External instructors are generally used for highly specialized areas of training consisting of topics that are static in nature. Internal instructors enable the use of an employee with the subject matter expertise and experience to teach internally developed content. Some disadvantages to this method of delivery are that classroom training can take a lot of time and resources to develop and can be cost prohibitive when the employee base is geographically spread out. Some companies with small training departments may not have the manpower to devote to things such as course design and development, participant manual development, course evaluations, etc.

E-learning is a lot less expensive to deliver and can reach large numbers of employees who are spread out over a large geographical area. Another advantage it has is the ability to be synchronous or asynchronous. Synchronous e-learning occurs when an instructor is available online to provide feedback in real time to the trainees at the same time they are online to complete the training. Asynchronous e-learning occurs when each trainee can complete the training online at the time and place of his choosing and as his schedule permits. However, e-learning is often not an appropriate method of delivery for training content that is subject to frequent revisions or updates. E-learning purchased as canned, generic content does not offer the flexibility to make revisions. Customized e-learning can be revised, but the window of time necessary to make the revisions is frequently prohibitive due to module review and testing procedures.

Another training delivery option that has been around for a long time is the Performance Support System. These systems are used to bring employees up to speed on their work as quickly as possible with minimal support from other people. The most common example of a Performance Support System is the Job Aid, which is basically a storage place for information that employees use while performing a task. Job Aids are particularly useful when performing tasks that are highly complex, are performed infrequently, have a high consequence associated with error, or have a high probability of change in the future.

In general, most companies will use a combination of classroom and e-learning delivery methods. In order to find the optimal mix, a thorough analysis must be conducted to identify learning objectives, employee population characteristics, budget and time constraints, internal and external resources, etc. There also needs to be alignment between the learning objectives and the company's business goals.

Training Program Administration
While an LMS is used to manage HES&S training requirements, a Learning Content Management System is used to administer them. These systems are usually purchased as one synergistic unit. The LCMS enables any employee with access to the Internet or the company's intranet to access web-based and classroom training requirements.

Some of the employee and supervisor benefits that the LCMS provides are:

  • Employees can schedule and self-enroll in classroom training.
  • Employees can complete WBT training requirements.
  • Employees can monitor training status (i.e., upcoming, past due) and training history.
  • Supervisors can monitor the training status of all assigned employees.
  • Supervisors have the ability to generate reports (e.g., Training Attendance, Training Status, Detail and Summary Graphs, etc.).

These software systems are invaluable tools used to help monitor, track, and administer HES&S training requirements and enable the company to "lead by example" in its responsibility to provide environmental and safety stewardship.

The benefits of training employees and contractors extend beyond safe and environmentally responsible job execution and regulatory compliance. Organizations that implement comprehensive training programs are able to attract and retain quality employees, develop and maintain a positive HES&S culture, enhance employee morale and productivity, and improve their bottom line by having fewer training related accidents and incidents.

Lastly, an HES&S training program should be reviewed or audited periodically to determine whether the objectives and goals are being met and to enable timely interventions when deviations or non-conformities have been identified.

This article originally appeared in the July 2011 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

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