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IMCA talks to Trevor Johnson at UKHSE

By the time you read this article, Trevor Johnson, HM Principal Inspector of Health, Safety, Wind and Marine Energy Team, UK Health & Safety Executive (HSE) will have retired after a career spanning more than thirty years at the Health & Safety Executive with the last nine years working with the UK’s offshore wind industry.

IMCA recently sat down for a ‘virtual chat’ with Trevor to thank him for all he has done, to find out what he regarded as highlights and what he sees as the challenge ahead. He started at the very beginning of his time in offshore wind. “It was in 2012 that HSE recognised that the new offshore renewable energy industry, primarily the offshore wind sector, brought its own challenges and therefore needed a small, dedicated team to be created to regulate it.

“In terms of a civil service post I was given the perfect job, being told: “Here’s a blank sheet of paper – you create the strategy”. We started gradually getting to understand the industry, and identifying a list of key stakeholders, people and organisations we thought we needed to work with.

“What they all had in common was a reputation for delivery and having the right people in place. IMCA was firmly on that list – indeed, it was near the top. By 2013 I arranged to speak to Mark Ford to see where we could align and whether it would be mutually worthwhile. I should add that on vessel visits we’d meet the Master who almost invariably said: “We follow IMCA guidance”. Hearing about IMCA’s reputation first hand like this was invaluable.

“By this time IMCA had had a Marine Renewable Energy Committee in place for three years. Mark was running the Secretariat side of things and Alan MacLeay was (and still is) a very knowledgeable chair who really knows his stuff. He is passionate about both the engineering and health and safety side, wants to make a difference, wanted to work with others; and is always eager for everyone to contribute.

“I was invited to join the committee and had my first experience of an IMCA meeting. It was very clear that this was a committee that wanted action, wanted to make improvements, and wanted to help the industry improve its health and safety performance. We certainly wanted to continue to be involved, to support and help IMCA with their ongoing work. It was clear this was going to be a two-way street. What we were putting in balanced against what we were getting out was well worth the investment.”

Bootle saw the industry highlight

Both Trevor and Alan have a specific date and place in mind as their principal highlight of the last decade – -2015] at HSE’s then headquarters at Bootle in Lancashire.  Trevor explains the background: “It was Christmas 2014 when we came up with the idea and discussed it at the HSE Christmas party (with only two of us then in our team, the Secret Santa didn’t keep us engaged too long!). There were pockets of good work being done, but it wasn’t really being pulled together across the whole offshore wind industry. So, we hosted an event and invited people to it – we didn’t, as some still say ‘summon’ people! Mark and Alan both came as did representatives from RenewableUK, G+, the MCA and other relevant companies and agencies.

“We stipulated that this wasn’t a health and safety event, it was more of a ‘leaders’ event’, so decision makers had to be there representing their organisations. We had about 80 people – the people we really wanted – there.  We created a number of workshops within the bigger event. One was about ‘bringing the industry together’. We envisaged this seeing the industry coming together to develop a communal strategy. I’m a control freak and made certain about who was in which room. It was essential that IMCA was in the room with Renewable UK and G+ and other big organisations. This led to G+ saying: “We all want to do more”- so the Industry Collaboration Committee was created and continues to play a key role today. It was all about getting mutual respect for these organisations so they would work together, share the burden of a consistent strategy and deal with specific issues such as risk reduction in the industry. IMCA simply had to be in the room!

Three years on

“We reviewed the situation with a similar event three years later in 2018. Over that three-year period people could demonstrate what had been achieve, but – more importantly – they still wanted to do more.  It is important to have IMCA involved representing such an important part of the industry.  By the time of that second event the offshore wind industry had started to become important to my Board of Directors. Testament to this was that the Chair at the time gave a keynote address. The industry continues to grow and becomes increasingly important to the UK economy, reflecting how important health and safety is to the economy too.

“What is important and should be recognised, is the professionalism of the health and safety community in the industry. This reflects the competent people involved in it. If you get the right people together, doing the right thing, it is not by accident that statistics start to look good. If you’d looked at the industry in 2010 you would not have been surprised if there had been a number of fatal accidents. I don’t want to tempt fate, but there has not been one, I’m glad to say, in the UK for eight years now.

“I think that is a remarkable success bearing in mind the environment in which the industry has been built. I touch wood every time I say it, for I don’t want that to change””.

Then came THE letter

It was in July 2020 that Trevor sent out a letter to the industry about concerns over recent incidents in the offshore wind energy industry (see Making Waves, August 2020).

Trevor explains: “One of the things we did well was proactive inspections, which involves talking to everybody from those tightening the bolts to the Master of the vessel, and the directors of an organisation. We got the feeling that there was a degree of complacency and that ‘lessons learned’ were not being communicated to everyone. We sent the letter as a catalyst for continuous improvement, not to shock or offend recipients. We wanted the word spread wide – a ripple effect. It certainly helped do that!

“I wasn’t surprised that the response was so good. I knew I would get a reaction from IMCA saying: “We will do our bit”. The webinar IMCA ran in the November 2020 (see below) is a perfect example of that, as was the article in Making Waves.

“It is still a big challenge getting to the workforce. We want a two-way street, not only getting information to them, but also receiving their feedback. There is still room for improvement. There is more to be done communicating with them and harnessing their power to make things better. Their reward should be ideas taken on board with a “thank you”, working together like this is good for self-esteem. If there is a nugget of an idea in a proposition, it should be taken seriously and moved forward quite formally.”

Other milestones

Trevor highlighted other milestones such as the ‘Stakeholder Days’ organised by G+ to which he said “IMCA contributes to massively”. Also, improvements in certain areas such as work on suspended loads. “Many large organisations now plan/design engineering around this scenario making it all a lot easier, efficient and safer!”

Then his attention turned to training standards. “This is something that will get bigger and better and reflects well on IMCA, it’s an area on which you have worked successfully. Training standards must be relevant to the marine community who are not involved with climbing up wind turbines so do not need to undergo GWO training. The relevance of training is important.

“Think of health and safety as a ‘brand’. You ruin that brand by over-duplication or unnecessary time/cost. It takes time to rebuild a brand’s reputation. IMCA produced a good piece of work, when they worked closely with industry to publish guidelines for the Basic Safety Training Requirements for Vessel Personnel Employed in the Offshore Renewable Energy Sector IMCA C 018. Working together and agreeing what the standards should be ensures that health and safety stays at the top of the agenda.

“Yes, we’re back to the importance of the Industry Collaboration Committee! HSE was just needed to organise the meeting, it is the industry’s space in which to collaborate. It works without the need for a regulator in the room, which is a really positive step. It shows how much more maturity there is now in the industry than there was back in 2012. People trust each other, and that is important.” 

Trevor, we at IMCA thank you for your involvement, it certainly gave impetus to the training discussions and resolution.

To keep this pot boiling, after all, offshore wind plays an ever-increasing role in members’ working lives, next issue we’ll look at Trevor’s thoughts about the future; what he’d have put on the agenda for the 2021 3-year review and his thoughts on retirement from “the best job of a lot of good jobs I have had at HSE”.

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