competence case study

case study – competence assurance for managers and supervisors

An offshore contractor came under pressure from its clients to be able to demonstrate competence – even though the clients themselves had no internal competence assurance system in place. The pressure increased when the contractor received two ‘improvement notices’ from the regulator, following offshore incidents. These demanded improvements in competence controls, but gave no direction as to how these should be developed.

Analysis indicated that the problem lay primarily with supervisory and management grades, and with maintenance positions. Lower grades were adequately covered by rigorous training modules and supervisory assessment.

National standards were considered too generic, and did not cover the appropriate grades. The contractor decided to produce in-house standards. Existing operations procedures were written in terms of equipment, but it soon became clear that matching competence standards would be unwieldy and repetitive.

They opted instead for a small number of standards covering only a few safety-critical tasks, but including processes such as risk assessment, inspection, crew training, and leadership. The standards also required individuals to demonstrate that they took responsibility for their own learning and development. The generic standards were supported by structured questioning to test if people had the required knowledge and understanding of theory, procedures, and legislation, over a range of equipment.

Workplace assessors were appointed and trained. Individual jobholders also attended a one-day course on the system, and were tasked with collecting evidence for their portfolios. They were given guidance (in the form of matrices) on the evidence that was required. A training co-ordinator was appointed internal verifier, and an external verifier audited the system. Promotion standards were also developed to clarify career paths from one grade to another, and were used as the basis of training programmes.

A further round of assessor and jobholder training took place three years later, when the system was extended to additional units and areas. Development costs were modest, record systems are slim-line and paper-based, and ongoing costs are minimal.

The contractor’s safety performance in recent years has been among the best in the sector and has been recognised in a series of awards. Competence management is a key component in a safety management system designed to build a learning safety culture throughout the organisation.