Training: safe & stirling work

Oil & Gas Middle East sits down with Angus Neil, managing director of Stirling Group, to talk about safety training in the region

The Middle East is generally less regulated than other regions, says Neil.
The Middle East is generally less regulated than other regions, says Neil. sits down with Angus Neil, managing director of Stirling Group, to talk about safety training in the region, how it compares with other parts of the world and how he expects the sector to evolve

Stirling Group offers a huge array of training, fire, safety and consultancy services to oil and gas companies in the Middle East. What are your main areas of business?
In two years, we have built-up a comprehensive array of services across the globe that are focused on reducing risk and increasing safety. With operations in eight locations, we currently deliver services in 15 countries.
We cover the full HSE spectrum, by taking a preventative approach in key areas of Major Accident Hazard Management, Occupational HSE Management and Capacity & Competence.

Our service range is broad but complementary and we are experts in every aspect of what we do, whether it is fully qualified fire-fighters, expert consultants in safe journey management or experienced engineers in risk and process safety.

Are there any particular areas that are especially important in the Middle East, compared to other regions?
We support organisations to demonstrate competence and compliance to the regulators. For various reasons, the Middle East is generally less regulated than other global energy provinces.

There is therefore a need, in certain quarters, to convince companies of the requirement to use our services. Our belief is that all accidents are preventable and all companies have a duty of care to their people and the environment. As companies start to recognise this and the region becomes more regulated, demand for our services is increasing.

Equally, as the requirements for local content increases, indigenous workforces require to be trained and our blend of expertise and experience provided on the ground through qualified expats and local consultants develops competence and confidence in the local workforce.

English is the globally accepted first language in the oil and gas industry and our English language courses are therefore well subscribed in the region.

So too are our softer skills courses such as leadership and management training.

Currently, we are active in the UAE, Southern Iraq, Kurdistan, Algeria, Saudi, Qatar, Kuwait and Oman. The UAE is at the forefront in the Middle-east and as these states recognise they need to do even more in reducing risk and improving safety, we are seeing a rise in our activities especially in Abu Dhabi in the UAE.

How often do you have to update and add to your services as regulations change and what sort of challenges does that pose?
Local regulations are changing, albeit slowly. But the baseline does not. This means that the underlying regulations and industry standards to which we adhere and for which we are accredited remain the same for us. We continually deliver against global best practice in every area.

For example the US NFPA standard in fire-fighting is recognised across the world and is one of the standards we follow. We invest in keeping abreast of new and updated regulations such as the NCEMA 7000:2015 standard and ADNOC’s latest business continuity policy, to which we have seen demand for business continuity consultancy in the UAE increase.

We are constantly achieving and upgrading our standards and accreditations. The fact that we do means that we are always well positioned to offer best in class services and products which, particularly in the current climate, presents a real opportunity for us rather than a challenge.

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Which training programmes are proving particularly popular at the moment in the Middle East and what does this tell us about the direction of the sector?
We deliver training to our clients in three ways. Firstly, through training management contracts, where we work closely with HR or learning and development management teams developing their training needs analysis, building curriculums and delivering the solutions to match their competence based framework.

Secondly, by delivering specific training courses to meet client requirements and finally through open courses to the market allowing individuals to attend.

Our technical oil and gas courses, specific to building capability within International Oil Companies (IOECs), are in demand as are our occupational health and safety courses such as working at height and gas testing. There is also strong demand for our open courses particularly IOSH and NEBOSH for supervisors and OPITO emergency management for OIMs and CROs.

Training in the ‘softer’ skills such as leadership management, IT and English is particularly sought after in less developed regions such as in Iraq and our professional fire-fighting training is experiencing record levels.

We are in fact looking at establishing a new facility in Iraq to deliver fire-fighting training. We deliver fully qualified fire-fighters quickly and effectively and therefore help get local people into valuable jobs that contribute the local national economy and reduce the reliance on expensive ex-pats.

What effect is the downturn in the price of oil likely to have business in your opinion?
The market fundamentals in the Middle-east are still strong and while we are seeing a delay in terms of decision-making as a result of the decline in oil price, we also see real opportunities. We believe the reaction to the sharp drop in oil price is a chance to re-set the market.

By providing high quality out-sourced services, which are fully compliant, qualified and accredited, we are offering a much more cost-effective service that can be used when required rather than being a costly overhead. By using our expertise, energy companies and other industries are spending less plus assured of a better service.

Training is historically an easy target in a downturn when companies are looking to cut costs. But increasingly companies in the Middle East are taking the impact on safety and risk into their cost-cutting considerations.

In previous cycles when the oil price has declined, we have seen incidents increase. They cannot afford to cut corners in safety critical areas and Stirling Group offers them an opportunity to reduce costs while increasing safety performance and reducing risk.

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You’ve been in position for just over two years now; what changes have you introduced at Stirling Group?
We have built an exceptionally successful global business, operating in multiple markets and delivering safety critical services that meet the needs of the industry.

Through organic growth and acquisition, we have developed a comprehensive and complementary range of services. For example the acquisition of Altor Risk Group last year has seen us add capacity and capability in the areas of crisis and continuity management and risk and process safety.

In addition, this year we have introduced through our safe journey management service line a multi-regional agreement with a market leading technology firm.

Stirling Group has a lot of experience working with companies and individuals working in Iraq. Would you say that this is the most challenging place to work currently, and why?

We work across a number of challenging environments, whether they be in highly regulated countries or frontier locations. Our people have been active in Iraq for over 12 years which means we understand the markets and its challenges.

We are committed to developing the local population to help organisations in country to develop a competent workforce, reducing the risk of injury and environmental damage. In addition, we are seeing the increase in the need for our HSE, crisis management and fire-fighting services.

We aim to build strong, lasting relationships with our clients to enable their workforce to operate safely and efficiently no matter where they work.

How do you think the demand of HSE in the Middle East is likely to change over the next five to ten years?
The regulatory environment will evolve with changes to existing regulations and new ones coming in to force. The expectations will be greater but as we offer best-in-class consultancy, outsourced services, quality safety products and globally leading training qualifications and accreditations, we will be well-placed to exceed those expectations.

Exploration and the construction of new projects in remote and environmentally hostile locations will demand more stringent HSE services. Stirling Group can provide the full range through it consultancy and continue to support through its training, manpower and outsourced services.


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