Step by step safety

A person’s ability to perform effectively in the workplace is paramount to a business’s success. In safety critical industries, it can be what ensures an individual – and their colleagues – remain safe.

OPITO, the skills organisation for the oil and gas industry, has the primary objective of helping the sector build a safe, skilled and competent workforce. OPITO standards, qualifications and workforce development frameworks are used by employers in 45 countries worldwide. There are currently around 330,000 people working in the UK oil and gas industry.

As part of its remit, OPITO develops and sets technical, safety training and competence standards alongside various industry stakeholders to ensure that those working offshore go to work and return safely. Training providers across the globe apply for approval to deliver these industry standards.


As an OPITO approvals auditor, Alex Spencer audits OPITO-approved training providers to confirm their OPITO training meets the required criteria and ensures every offshore worker is being trained to the same industry standard – no matter who they work for or what job they do.

Alex began his career almost two decades ago working as a senior instructor and examiner at the sportscotland National Centre Cumbrae on the west coast of Scotland delivering Royal Yachting Association courses.

He was then the owner of a small marine training company based on the Clyde specialising in commercial powerboat training, before joining the Maritime Rescue Institute in Stonehaven where he helped the charity gain three OPITO approvals for offshore coxswain training courses. Alex joined OPITO in 2013 and is part of the Approvals team, responsible for looking after the UK remit as well as Ireland, Denmark, Holland and Belgium.

“My entire career has focused on people and safety, and joining the OPITO team was an easy and natural career move for me,” said Alex.

“My time at the Maritime Rescue Institute as an instructor gave me a real insight into the process of working towards and gaining OPITO approval and has stood me in good stead for understanding the different challenges both parties face.”

Alex undertakes a step-by-step process when a training provider applies for OPITO approval. The first is a workshop where the process is outlined to prevent any misunderstanding of what the auditor is looking for.

The company then submits documentation verifying how it meets the compliance through lesson plans and documented procedures. After this is completed, Alex conducts a site visit to audit the training provider on the theoretical and practical aspects of their training against the required standard.

“The UK has approximately 50 training providers so we are a busy team. As well as auditing new course approvals, we carry out annual monitoring audits with existing OPITO-approved companies to ensure that they are continuing to maintain the standard,” Alex said.

“We also review management systems, risk assessments as well as aspects of legislation as per the approved industry standard.”

Another function Alex and the approvals team carry out is auditing companies which have, or are working towards, an OPITO-approved competency management system (CMS).

BP, BG Group, TOTAL, Centrica, and Nexen Petroleum UK Limited are all OPITO CMS approved companies.

“The OPITO approval demonstrates that you have safe working practices in place while ensuring your employees’ skills are being developed and measured. All of which helps to drive efficiencies and cost benefits across a business.

Alex said: “If a company already has a CMS in place, we carry out a system health check to benchmark it against the OPITO criteria and devise a plan to help close the gaps and achieve approval.

“We are experiencing a period where it’s never been more important for us as an industry to stay focused on safety and competency and not get complacent around training.

“It’s OPITO’s mission to ensure that the oil and gas workforce remains safe and we do everything we can to support training providers to ensure that OPITO’s standards are upheld.”

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