Safety Services Netherlands – John Herfkens, Managing Director
The managing director of Falck Safety Services Netherlands, home of the largest safety training facility in the world, discusses the correct approach to safety in developed markets, and how companies like Falck can work above and beyond safety requirements in the oil and gas sector to deliver
Falck Nutec became Falck Safety Services in 2013. To what extent did that rebranding signify a change in the way you were focused as a company?
The rebranding to Falck Safety Services was a clear message that as a company, we are focusing on safety and connected services; not just training, but knowledge, experience, support and quality. We go on to ships and help crews learn how to use their new safety systems, we help companies create their own safety procedures, and our new name helps customers understand this better than our old name, which stood for Norwegian underwater technical emergency company.
Falck’s Rotterdam training facility is the largest of its kind in the world. What’s the rationale behind basing it in the Netherlands?
The training facility here in Rotterdam started off as a joint venture between various stakeholders based here, including the port itself: all parties agreed that they need a place within the port to train people working there, from the refineries to the fire brigade. It’s as big as it is because it’s connected to the Dutch and the port itself – this is one of the biggest ports in the world, because of who we are as a nation: we are extroverted, we talk to people, and we are very focused on commerce, and I believe the size of the port represents all of this.
The maritime section of our training facility, and indeed, our others in the North Sea, started off here following the Piper Alpha disaster, which still forms the basis of safety policies we have today, because at that time, local governments started to improve their safety demands for the industry and require certifications.
What lessons are the important ones to take away from serving such a developed safety market?
Safety is not an issue to play with – a company doesn’t use it to improve their offering to customers, but rather, it is something that simply has to be in place. And companies should want to have it in place: from an internal point of view, it increases morale and makes employees feel more confident in doing their jobs, and from a business perspective, it saves money. Our aim is to help organizations improve their safety level. And for that, we work until we’re finished, until they’re safe, which is an ongoing process. For example, we are currently working with an offshore company, helping them to write their new safety manual, from scratch. Services like this can radically improve safety in companies, and is something above and beyond the demands of certification.
Being located in a global oil and gas hub, do you see an opportunity to help this message of safety permeate into other markets?
The Dutch market on its own is not that big, even compared to our neighbor the UK: the Dutch only have around 3,000 people currently working on offshore rigs supported be 13,000 people, and given that they have to be certified every four years, that means only a limited number of people per year for us to train. So, we must also look elsewhere – and this is reflected in the way that the Netherlands functions as an oil and gas hub in other segments too, and influences the way we think about our business. We must look up the value chain here and offer new services, such as our scenario-based training. We have a market share here that we can’t improve too much, so we must find new ways of creating business.
Training and safety is all about experiencing things, and the better we make that experience, the better trained people are when they are confronted with the real thing, which we all hope will never happen. This was the thinking behind the creation of this state-of-the-art scenario-based training facility. We are also trying to look beyond ‘basic training’– currently, a third of our work is basic training, with the rest coming from more advanced courses, which helps with our aim of looking for new business, and helps improve sustainability. The demand from Dutch operators has helped this enormously: companies across the supply chain here want more: they want their people to be as safe as possible, and we are happy to help.
Falck opened an LNG training facility in the Netherlands recently. What was the motivation behind this?
There are three facilities like this in the world today: ours, one in Spain and one in the US. Gate terminal was very keen to build this facility, as was the port authority, so we decided to invest in it. Almost counter-intuitively, LNG in itself is not that dangerous: it hardly burns at all, but there are other aspects that need to be taken into consideration, such as how to recognize the gas, and the effects it has on your personal protective equipment. The training itself is very useful: we are currently training the harbor fire brigade, and have talked to companies from France and Germany that are interested in being trained in this area. It’s important for people to understand how to respond in LNG related situations – there are a lot of things you have to know before you understand what you have to do.
What is one example of a change in regulations that has changed your business?
A new regulation that requires all offshore workers to be trained to use an external breathing system (EBS) before going offshore has really had an impact on the training market, as it affects so many workers.
This is also an example of a training module that we must introduce because of the decisions of the certifying bodies, which accounts for a lot of our current work. However, we are trying to ensure that more and more of our business today comes from non-certified training, because the value you can offer as a training company diminishes on such courses. Currently, a large percentage of our business comes from non-required training courses.
What do you believe is the best way to build a culture of safety into a company?
Safety culture has to start from the top: the manager, director or CEO has to follow and set the rules, and has to live by example. Safety is something that the top level of management needs to proscribe, follow, give the best example of, and talk to each other about. In the end everybody in the company must feel responsible for safety. When you talk about safety, you need to have a clear and open communication path. If anyone in this company sees that I am doing something that’s not safe, I may be his boss, but he has to feel he is able to tell me to change my behavior.
As a company, how do you deal with the fact that you never know you have done a good job until something goes wrong?
Of course we monitor delivery, outcomes and throughput, but the basic strategy is based on the idea of constant improvement: to never be happy with what you deliver, never rest on your laurels, and never take your market position for granted. We have to be modest: we should be a company that nobody notices because we have done our job correctly.
What surprised you the most coming to work for Falck?
Before you go to a job you assess if it’s a good fit for you, but a really pleasant surprise was the enthusiasm of the instructors here, the ambition to do the right thing.
Which achievements so far are you most proud of in your career here?
We had a few challenges when I arrived here just under three years ago: the company wanted to be less reliant on oil and gas in order to boost sustainability. For this reason, we made maritime a new focus and opened our third global training center for the sector in Amsterdam. I hope I have made an impact here, helping the company to grow and professionalize, and have an impact on the industries it serves. We have done good work: for example, when certifying bodies demanded that maritime refresher training should take seven days, we argued that we could achieve the same level of training in four days, by combining segments and thinking about the whole thing logically. This saves our clients an enormous amount of money per person, and makes their lives easier in terms of the time spent training. And now, it seems that this standard will be adopted around the world.