Guides

Offshore life and what to expect – Part 4

Secondary/Additional Roles

In Part 3, I covered the basic Primary Roles a Medic will usually be asked to carry out whilst on board an installation. In this final article, I will go over some of the installation specific jobs you might be asked to do, depending where you are…

Static Oil Platform

This is the type of place that most people think of when you say ‘Oil Rig’. A big platform with four huge legs that disappear into the sea. These have generally been in place for two to three decades and the role of Medic is normally well defined. Additional roles can include…

  • Testing the water for Chlorine content
  • Conducting Health Checks
  • Health Promotion (Health At Work Awards etc)

Usually, the older Platforms are fairly cushy numbers. Some will have a dedicated Helicopter Admin clerk and a Safety Officer. The crew changes are regular, and you should have fairly decent facilities and an established crew.

FPSO Units (Floating Production and Storage Offshore)

These are a different beast all together. They do the same job as a Static Platform, but their origin leads to their diversity. FPSOs start life as Oil Tankers. They are then converted so that they have Oil Processing equipment on the main deck and storage tanks down below. They are then placed in a location where they are held in place with a complex series of anchors and oil pipes. Their main advantage is that once the oil runs out, they can be towed away to another location and carry on doing their job. Their main disadvantage is that, being a converted boat, they pitch and roll a lot during bad weather. Secondary roles on FPSOs can include

  • Helicopter Admin and Cabin Allocation
  • Upkeep of the COSHH system (Care of Substances Hazardous to Health)
  • Health Promotion
  • Occupational Health Surveillance
  • Manual Handling Assessments and training
  • General Admin duties (having a good working knowledge of PC Office packages is a great advantage)

Drilling Rigs

In the UK, these come in two varieties – Jack Ups and Semi-subs.

Jack-Ups have long metal legs that are planted in the seabed to provide stability for their drilling operations. As these legs cannot be too long, Jack-Ups are generally found working close to land where the water is relatively shallow (although you do get some that venture further out).

Semi-Subs float on partially submerged pontoons, but are also stabilized. These can be found working in much deeper water than Jack-Ups.

The atmosphere on Drilling Rigs is completely different to that of Platforms and FPSOs. As drilling contracts are usually quite short, the crews are much more transient – and the work rate is much more frenetic. I have always felt much busier on Drilling Rigs. Even when the job description seemed less taxing than other places, there just seemed to be more going on. As for extra duties, they can be numerous

  • Helicopter Admin and Cabin Allocation
  • Upkeep of the COSHH system
  • Health Promotion
  • Safety Inductions for people new to the Rig
  • Upkeep of the crews’ training matrix
  • Arranging training courses for the crew
  • Manual Handling Assessments and training
  • General Admin duties
  • And if you are able, helping the Radio Operators fix the Satellite TV system when it goes on the blink!

Support Vessels

This category is the most diverse as support vessels come in all shapes and sizes. The biggest are the Diving Ships. These routinely have a complement of over 130 people. They will also have Divers who can present you with a new set of challenges. You may be asked to do pre- and post-saturation checks and you might have to try and diagnose them without actually being able to see them! This would happen if they came down with something whilst in saturation. If you fancy this type of work or find you are doing a lot of it, there are specialist Dive Medic courses you can do.

Then there are Pipelaying ships, Trenching Vessels and Seismic Vessels. These all carry out vital roles in the offshore industry and they all need medics. The main thing that they have in common is that the Medic can sometimes be the Radio Operator as well. However, this is becoming less prevalent as the HSE have started issuing guidelines covering suitable secondary roles for Medics. After all, in an emergency a Medic/R.O. would be responsible for looking after the casualties and sending off the distress signals.

This can frighten some folk off, but the day to day duties of the Radio Op are not all that difficult. Time consuming, but not difficult. What is difficult is the course you will be sent on to qualify you as a Radio Operator. The GMDSS course can be overwhelming if you have no previous experience of radios and satellite phone systems. There is a lot of information to take in.

You may also get involved in welfare items such as running the video library or organizing quiz nights etc. But this is usually up to you – as these activities are voluntary, you can usually opt out.

So when combined, the additional tasks can look like this;

  • Helicopter Admin and Cabin Allocation
  • Upkeep of the COSHH system
  • Health Promotion
  • Safety Inductions for people new to the Rig
  • Upkeep of the crews’ training matrix
  • Arranging training courses for the crew
  • Manual Handling Assessments and training
  • General Admin duties
  • Upkeep of the GMDSS Log
  • Maintenance of the Telephone system
  • Maintenance of the Radio System (including antennae and batteries)
  • Helicopter operations (i.e. forwarding all the details to the pilots and keeping in contact with them as they come and go)
  • Communications with other Vessels or Platforms
  • Personnel tracking during Crew Changes when in Port (more difficult than it sounds as everyone, except you, goes to the pub as soon as the ship ties up alongside the quay)

When you look at that list you will see why not that many people enjoy working on Support Vessels long term. But one advantage of being so busy is that once you have worked on one for a while, everywhere else seems a bit easier.

I actually count myself lucky that my first job was on one. I was regularly putting in 14 hour days for 3 out of 4 weeks on board. The admin workload was very time consuming and I was trying to learn everything at once. I was lucky that the folk on board were a great bunch (FlexInstaller in 1997-98) and really helped me out – so I learned a lot and I learned how to do a lot efficiently.

Closing Comments

So, that is it. The pros, cons and jobs you may find when you start working offshore. The list is in no way definitive – it’s taken purely from my own experience. Other medics will have other viewpoints and as every platform is different, you may find that you see or do little of what I have written. The best way is to see it for yourself. If you think you can handle being away from home, it can be a great way to make a good wage, further your clinical experience and expand your horizons (and you’ll never have to do another bed-bath).

One of my favourite memories, so far, was checking First Aid Kits in the Lifeboat of a Pipelaying ship in Brazil. A warm wind blew through the open Lifeboat door and I just sat and stared at the sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean. The alternative would have been driving through the rain on a dark, winter’s morning in the West End of Glasgow..

If you speak to Grumbleguts, their best moment was “lying on a heli-deck in October in a still, silent Norwegian Fjord watching the most fantastic Northern Light display! The pod of killer whales beside us was pretty awesome too………”

Like I said – it’s better than a real job.