Unions and health experts unite in new call for action to improve both physical and mental health & safety of oil and gas workers

There have been fresh calls to improve the physical health of N. Sea offshore oil and gas workers after a survey showed that most felt that safety standards had fallen in the last six months.

And a medical expert at Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen is also today urging the industry to pay more attention to workers’ mental health,

Dr Steve Smith Senior Lecturer (Enterprise Fellow) in Mental Health and Wellbeing/ Enterprise Manager School of Nursing and Midwifery at RGU, said:

We have eradicated, or controlled for, almost all the risk factors in the highly dangerous environment of oil and gas exploration and retrieval.

“But the biggest risk factor we have left out is our own refusal to respond to issues of mental health and wellbeing across the industry.

In the survey of more than 700 offshore workers by the Unite trade union, over 58% of those surveyed said that standards had dropped, whilst only 3% reported an improvement.

The rest of those surveyed said standards had remained the same – but 38.5% of respondents felt unable to report an incident because of fear of victimisation.

Unite called for a whistleblowing helpline to be set up.

William Wallace,Scottish officer for Unite, said: “No worker should feel victimised for raising these issues. The consequences could be catastrophic.”

“This survey shows a very worrying picture. The lessons of Piper Alpha should never be forgotten.

“Companies should never – ever – make cuts that threaten health and safety and put the lives of our members at risk.

“We will be calling on the industry to work with health and safety bodies, with the trade unions, and with government so that we can get a confidential helpline created.”

Offshore workers can contact the HSE by calling 0300 003 1647

Meanwhile, a Scottish MSP who worked for over 20 years in producing safety and training videos for the industry – today called on oil and gas employers to ensure standards improve and that efficiency savings should not come at the cost of health and safety standards.

Gillian Martin, (Aberdeenshire East: SNPsaid: “The safety of our oil and gas workers has to be paramount, and it is concerning to see that workers feel the health and safety standards offshore have fallen in the last six months.
 
“And with offshore health and safety reserved to the Westminster parliament, the UK government really needs to sit up and pay attention to these reports. I also urge the oil and gas sector to listen to these calls, and take action where necessary.
 
“The oil and gas sector has been taking steps to improve efficiency in light of global challenges – but this should never come at the expense of health and safety standards. We can’t afford to forget the lessons of the past when making these considerations.”

Whether brought on by biological or experiential factors, poor mental health can make seemingly simple tasks seem impossible and seriously hinder day-to-day life. Far from being related to mood or something you can ‘just snap out’ of, it can impact everything.

Dr Steve Smith, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing, Robert Gordon University
Dr Steve Smith, Senior Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing, Robert Gordon University

Dr. Smith added: “Rightly or wrongly, rigs, wells and other sites are often perceived as macho environments, where emotions are left at the door. As a result, it’s not uncommon for people to feel unable to share.

“Being away from loved ones, the people who know and understand you, can be tough and the feeling of loneliness, as well as any accompanying mental health issue, is only made worse by not having anybody to talk to about it.

“In either scenario, stress and fatigue can quickly become overwhelming and could lead to mistakes that put the lives of others at risk.

“It isn’t appropriate for physical health to be the only priority, never mind the only concern, of hiring companies. It takes incredible bravery to talk about mental health and ask for help. Oil and gas companies need to make it as easy as possible.

“Some recruiters – like Petroplan – take steps to ensure the professionals it assesses for jobs are fully aware not only of the physical but also mental demands of working in the energy industry.”

A Petroplan spokesman added: “In recent years, there have been examples of the industry becoming more aware of mental health and its importance.

But the question remains: Does the oil and gas industry –  for all the emphasis it places on physical safety -do enough when it comes to its peoples’ mental well-being?”

 

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