April 30, 2014

Joining the HSE debate

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Over a breakfast meeting in Houston back in 2012, we invited a group of clients to discuss their views on the number of Health, Safety and Environmental (HSE) standards they meet each day as they drive their businesses within the international energy sector.

As an outcome from this session, there was a clear message that the industry has to work together in terms of bringing its expertise into any conversation around regulatory change. As well as this, our work with a number of organisations across the spectrum of the global oil & gas industry continues to highlight the growing emphasis on the delivery of HSE services and training, and the requirement for operators and service companies to meet various country and client standards.

In fact our global network tells us that there are potentially more than 100 differing standards worldwide, which companies must adhere to in order to do business – coming at a cost to the industry of tens of millions of dollars (if not more) each year to manage and meet.

In the past, reforms and improvements have been driven by major, and often tragic, events. For example the Piper Alpha disaster in the North Sea was the main driver of massive legislation change in the region and 25 years on, its safety standards are some of the best in the world. That said, a number of high-profile incidents involving helicopters serving North Sea platforms has focused the industry to look more closely at personnel transfer methods. This has seen a cross-section of the industry work together to discuss alternatives.

Similarly, and more recently, Macondo in the Gulf of Mexico continues to drive the news agenda, both in terms of the need for legislation or regulation change, with the media agenda also driven by the ongoing legal case.

Inevitably, following such events we often see government regulators impose new rules and tighten the permitting processes. The focus is then on the supply chain to go through extensive risk-management assessment to evaluate partners and third-party vendors in search of ways to avoid another disaster.

In turn, this causes the industry—particularly oilfield service providers—to adapt their HSE standards to account for the changes enacted by governments and/or major operators, often at a local or regional level. Recently, this has been seen at an even higher governance level – in June 2013 the EU adopted a new regulatory framework aimed at reducing the occurrence of major accidents and to limit
their consequence.

This has in the past provoked a reaction within the service sector to hold our breath and wait and see, but more recently, some organisations have taken a different view and proactively engaged in the conversation in order to drive the debate on standards before an incident even occurs.

In a recent case in the UK, as a result of the wider industry debate around helicopter transfer, union representatives were critical of the alternative transfer methods provided by one of our clients. Our belief was that this criticism was actually a call for more information and so we advised our client to join the debate. By doing this, positive media coverage was achieved and more importantly the union view on this particular form of transfer was completely turned around. 

Besides building visibility, why is this important to marketing communications professionals? More often than not, we are tasked to lead the way in positioning companies and the traditional view is that the public affairs should be left to the paid lobbyists. That said, stakeholder prioritisation will tell us that there are a number of influencers that any sound communications strategy must inform. Ensuring that the messaging and delivery channels are both targeted and relevant to the specific audience can go a long way in placing a company at the forefront of the debate.

If and when this can be achieved we are in the position of true thought-leadership resulting in an increase in share of voice and enhanced credibility and favourability in the marketplace, all of which, in turn, will influence the sales cycle.

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Ed Davis

Regional Director, Americas

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