In the years following the Piper Alpha tragedy, the oil and gas industry in the UK made significant improvements in safety through the application of new hardware, design changes and modifications, and new policies and procedures.

Dedication and hard work by the workforce and management alike had led to a significant reduction in the number of serious accidents and injuries reported over the years, but the rate of progress in safety performance improvement had begun to slow.

“Step Change has helped to create an environment in which it is easier and more acceptable to address issues.”

Employees were still being injured, and this was seen as unacceptable. A step change in the safety culture was required.


With this in mind, industry leaders and representatives from the three main trade associations, the United Kingdom Offshore Operators Association (UKOOA), the International Association of Drilling Contractors (IADC) and the Offshore Contractors Association (OCA) agreed that enhanced cooperation between the companies operating on the UK continental shelf (UKCS) was the way forward.

As a result, in 1997, the Step Change in Safety initiative was launched at the Offshore Europe conference. George Watkins, managing director of Conoco UK Ltd, agreed to take the position of chairman of the initiative. Under the initiative, the industry made a commitment to:

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  • Work together to improve the sharing of safety information and good practice across the whole industry, through the active involvement of employees, service companies, operators, trade unions, regulators and representative bodies
  • Establish leadership safety performance contracts, which will demonstrate a concern for safety on a par with concern for business performance
  • Deliver a 50% improvement in the industry’s safety performance over three years

A Step Change support team (full time with dedicated resources) was formed to help establish and maintain the necessary links, facilitate and provide support for the initiative and improve communications throughout the industry. The individuals in the support team are sponsored in their positions by their parent company.


Press conferences were held in Aberdeen and London to mark the third anniversary of Step Change. Attending were journalists, reporters and representatives from across the industry.

“In 2002, industry leaders agreed that the UK oil and gas industry should aim for world-class safety performance.”

They were given the opportunity to ask questions on the impact Step Change has had on improving safety and invited to witness the signing of a reaffirmation statement by the new chairman, Paul Blakeley, managing director of Talisman Energy Ltd.

On display were the signatures of representatives from organisations, companies, trade associations, unions and individuals reaffirming their continuing support for the ideals and principles of Step Change (the original three and an additional nine associations and organisations now supporting the initiative). They had been asked to reaffirm the industry’s commitment to maintain its efforts to achieve the 50% improvement in safety performance and deliver sustainable, continuous improvement in the health and safety performance of the industry

In addition, individual leaders and managers signed up to commit personally to continually improve the health, safety and welfare of people in the UK oil and gas industry by:

  • Leading by personal example
  • Consistently behaving in ways that demonstrate the importance that they attach to improving health and safety
  • Making consideration of the health and safety implications of actions an integral part of every decision they make
  • Seeking out and acting on feedback about how others see their commitment to improving health and safety
  • Reacting positively to criticism and input from others on how to improve health and safety
  • Positively reinforcing the behaviour of others to improve health and safety
  • Seeking out the experience and good practices of others
  • Working with others to develop commonality in the way health and safety issues are addressed

Industry performance indicates that Step Change has delivered some successes, but it is also important to note that, since Step Change began, there has been a lot learned, and this in turn has led to a better understanding of the difficulties of communicating effectively, what is required to make management commitment meaningful and convincing, and the behavioural issues that affect relationships and meaningful engagement


So what will success look like? Step Change can be considered a success if the oil and gas industry can ensure that:

  • There is meaningful engagement between companies, trade associations, trade unions and the workforce
  • Trust, respect and mutuality become widespread
  • Implicit belief in MDs’ and managers’ commitments to health and safety is established
  • There is a reduction in the tendency to ‘go through the motions’
  • A strong belief in personal accountability for safe working is developed
  • Clear standards for what is expected are established
  • Everyone becomes comfortable with highlighting unsafe acts and receiving safety advice
  • Corrective actions are implemented quickly
  • Everyone takes pride in the contribution they make towards preventing accidents in their area of work
  • Organisations recognise and promote effective safety management
  • Networking and the sharing of learning and good practice openly across the industry becomes widespread
  • There is increased harmonisation of systems, training and competency requirements
  • Health and safety performance improves significantly and continuously


A number of mechanisms have been established to facilitate the sharing and learning of good practice across the industry. These include:

  • The Step Change leadership team
  • Step Change focal points
  • The Step Change support team
  • Workforce workshops, forums and workgroups
  • An OIM / supervisor network
  • An elected safety representative network
  • A safety professionals and advisers network
  • The Southern North Sea Workforce Involvement Network (SNS-WIN)
  • The cross-industry Step Change website, which includes: a safety alert data and information exchange database, a discussion area, communication flyers and the annual report and an engagement pack
“The managing directors on the Step Change leadership team regularly review the implementation status of each participating company.”

These networks and processes have helped to change the type of dialogue and level of cooperation that is now occurring between the various parts of the industry. Step Change has helped to create an environment in which it is easier and more acceptable to address issues that would have previously been regarded as difficult.

Many cross-industry task groups have worked on priority issues on behalf of the industry and produced a range of good practice guidance, training materials and agreed competency standards.


In September 2001, Tom Botts, managing director of Shell UK Exploration and Production, became the Step Change chairman. In 2002, industry leaders agreed that the UK oil and gas industry should aim for world-class safety performance, and nothing less. Thus a new vision was created.

To achieve this vision, Step Change was rejuvenated. A new structure was introduced that maintains the crucial workforce networks, but also includes a leadership team made up of senior managers from companies, associations, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and trade unions working in partnership – not only committing to the process, but taking action.

One of the most important new features is that each company and association nominates a Step Change focal point: an individual who has the authority and accountability, time and resources to drive implementation of Step Change within their company, and who can act as a link with the support team on all initiatives and relevant company issues.


The Step Change leadership team meets monthly, and consists of approximately 12 senior managers from companies active in the offshore industry. Additional members represent the trade unions, the HSE, the Marine Safety Forum, UKOOA, the OIM / supervisors, safety professionals, advisers and elected safety representative networks. The team is responsible for:

  • Providing direction to the Step Change effort
  • Communicating progress within their industry sector
  • Taking executive action to further the Step Change effort
  • Endorsing task groups and assisting in achieving deliverable goals
  • Directing resources available to Step Change
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of Step Change
  • Presenting recommendations requiring industry endorsement to the appropriate trade associations and organisations
  • Sponsoring and supporting the OIM / supervisors, elected safety representatives, safety professionals, advisors, SNSWIN and focal point networks


In 2002, an inaugural meeting of Step Change focal points took place to discuss and agree objectives and terms of reference for the focal point role. This meeting was important in ensuring a committed and consistent approach to safety and for the implementation of Step Change. Focal points are responsible for:

  • Driving Step Change implementation in a company or organisation
  • Taking on the Step Change improvement model
  • Providing feedback to the Step Change support team on current implementation status and progress
  • Reporting progress against set Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
  • Providing, through regular dialogue, an insight into the current initiatives being developed in their organisations, particularly those that could be shared as
    good practice
  • Proposing new ideas, issues or initiatives for consideration
“A number of mechanisms have been established to facilitate the sharing and learning of good practice across the industry.”

It is critical for focal points to have the authority and accountability (resources, budget, time and authority to act) to dedicate themselves to working on initiatives. To ensure progress is being made, the managing directors on the Step Change leadership team regularly review the implementation status of each participating company.

Trade associations’ and organisations’ focal points should provide their member companies and their workforce with a communication link to highlight areas where there may be a safety concern and report any problems with the implementation of Step Change.

Where good practice exists, participating companies are encouraged to share these with others for the benefit of the whole industry.

The adoption of Step Change initiatives is not compulsory, but companies, as a minimum, are expected to examine any gaps between how they currently manage an issue and how it should be managed under Step Change.