• What you need to know about non-technical skills in oil and gas operations

    What you need to know about non-technical skills in oil and gas operations

    5th April - By Dr R Roberts

Since the Deepwater Horizon drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico on April 20th, 2010 there has been a surge in interest in non-technical skills in the oil and gas industry. Whilst the root causes of the incident were multi-faceted and complex, poor non-technical skills were cited as contributing to the blowouts and resulting outcomes (Report to the President, 2011). In particular, poor situation awareness was identified as a key factor involved in the incident (Roberts et al., 2015a, b; Chief Counsel’s Report, 2011).

Before we go any further, let’s talk what non-technical skills are.

What are non-technical skills?

Non-technical skills (NTS) originated in NASA in the 1970’s as a way for flight crews to improve their soft skills such as teamwork, leadership and situation awareness. The importance of these skills has been recognised in high risk industries including aviation, healthcare, mining, rail and air traffic control.

Non-technical skills are cognitive and social skills that complement technical skills and contribute to safe and efficient performance (Flin et al. 2003). Training these skills is referred to as Crew Resource Management (CRM). These are essentially the skills that all good operators use in their daily work to achieve consistently high performance. In my own experience working on non-technical skills in oil and gas, most people recognise these skills in their own work after about 10 minutes of conversation.

Situation Awareness: Knowing what is going on around you and using that to anticipate how the situation might develop.

Decision Making: Diagnosing the situation and reaching a judgement to select an appropriate course of action.

Communication: Exchanging of information, ideas and feelings through verbal and non-verbal methods (e.g. body language).

Teamwork: Working in a group to ensure joint task completion, often through co-ordination, co-operation and conflict resolution.

Leadership: Directing, managing and supporting a team to accomplish tasks for set targets.

Personal Resources: Understanding how performance shaping factors such as fatigue and stress can impact on task performance, and methods for coping with these.

Non-technical skills in oil and gas operations

I started my PhD looking at situation awareness in offshore drillers, two years after Deepwater Horizon. Once I realised how complex a task it was to safely drill a well, I was shocked that there was so little research looking at NTS in oil and gas compared to other industries. Whilst, academics and practitioners such as Rhona Flin, Margaret Crichton and John Thorogood (and many more!) had been working on NTS in oil and gas for over a decade, interest spiked after the incident reports into Deepwater Horizon. (For more information on this, please see Roberts et al., 2015a, b). Industry recognition came with the IOGP’s Report 501 (Crew Resource Management for Well Operations, 2014) and the Energy Institute’s Guidance on Crew Resource Management and non-technical skills training programmes (2014). This was swiftly followed by the IOGP’s Report 502 (Guidelines for implementing Well Operations Crew Resource Management training). These documents provided valuable knowledge and instruction on NTS and how to conduct tailored, role specific CRM training for well operations. However, a crucial aspect of conducting NTS training is to be able to assess both the NTS skills and evaluate the effectiveness of the training – this was something that was still missing.

What’s new?

Since then, I have finished my PhD examining drillers’ situation awareness, published the papers and like many people in oil and gas, moved onto different work. But like your first love, you never really leave it. Which brings me to the motivation of this article, the IOGP’s most recent Report 503 (Behavioural markers of non-technical skills in oil and gas operations) which was published last month (2018). This long-awaited document covers the foundations of how to measure and assess these key non-technical skills using behavioural markers. Behavioural markers are concrete, observable examples of non-technical skills that contribute to effective or ineffective performance in a working environment (Klampfer et al., 2001). They allow instructors to use a validated framework to assess the competence of an individual or team. They can also be used as part of incident analysis and part of other training methods (e.g. tactical decision games).

I am thrilled to see that there is still interest in NTS in both well operations and that it is being taken seriously within the industry as whole. With the increasing number of simulator facilities being used and CRM style training programmes available, I hope that this attention will continue to grow. I was particularly pleased to see that my PhD work was the only non-IOGP work referenced in this document.

My final words of caution: for NTS training to be effective, it needs to be tailored and role specific as based upon empirical research. There needs to be formative, validated assessment tools to provide meaningful feedback to the participants as well as regular refresher courses to maintain these skills. The need for high level NTS is greater than ever, given our current climate in the oil and gas sector because everyone wants to make it home safe at the end of the day.


Energy Institute. (2014).Guidance on Crew Resource Management (CRM) and non-technical skills training programmes. Available from: http://www.energypublishing.org/publication/free-to-download/guidance-on-crew-resource-management-crm-and-non-technical-skills-training-programmes2

Flin, R., Martin, L., Goeters, K. M., Hormann, H. J., Amalberti, R., Valot, C., & Nijhuis, H. (2003). Development of the NOTECHS (non-technical skills) system for assessing pilots' CRM skills. Human Factors and Aerospace Safety, 3, 97-120.

IOGP (2014a). Crew Resource Management for Well Operations teams (Report 501). Available from : http://www.ogp.org.uk/publications/wells-committee/wocrm-report/

IOGP (2014b). Guidelines for implementing Well Operations Crew Resource Management training (Report 502). Available from : http://www.iogp.org/pubs/502.pdf

IOGP (2018). Introducing behavioural markers of non-technical skills in oil and gas operations. (Report 503). Available from: http://www.iogp.org/bookstore/product/the-use-of-behavioural-markers-of-non-technical-skills-in-oil-and-gas-operations-supporting-material/

Klampfer, B., Flin, R., Helmreich, R.L., Hausler, R., Sexton, B., Fletcher., G et al. (2001). Enhancing performance in high risk enviroments : Reccomendations for the use of behavioural markers.

Report to the President (2011). National Commission on the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. Washington, DC: US Government Printing.

Roberts, R.C., Flin, R., & Cleland, J. (2015a). Staying in the zone: Offshore drillers’ situation awareness. Human Factors, 57, 573-590.

Roberts, R.C., Flin, R., & Cleland, J. (2015b). ‘Everything was fine’: An analysis of the drill crew’s situation awareness on Deepwater Horizon. Journal of Loss Prevention in the Process Industries, 38, 87-100

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