The coronavirus pandemic is of a scale and severity which none of us have seen before, but we shouldn’t take for granted the true value of the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry’s culture of safety.
At the time of writing, the UK has recorded nearly 43,000 deaths, 306,000 confirmed cases and is beginning to progress through roadmaps out of lockdown for each of the four nations. Preparations for the health and economic impacts are made more difficult by the fact Covid-19 is a novel virus and relatively little is known about it. In our industry, figures show that suspected cases offshore continue to decline, but as we all know, we can never be complacent.
In a former life I was a North Sea incident management team leader and an offshore installation manager responsible for getting prepared for major events and ensuring we had procedures in place to protect the health, safety, and wellbeing of people. While Covid-19 has affected everyone, industries and governments globally, our industry’s safety culture of clear communications, planning, coordination and remaining alert has without a doubt helped us navigate these turbulent times.
Many of the things we do every day, whether it’s holding the handrail on stairways, beginning each meeting with safety moments or making a safety observation, would seem alien to friends and family who don’t work in our industry.
OGUK has helped coordinate a significant collective response involving government agencies, regulators, industry and trade unions.
In February, when transmission across Europe started to directly impact our members, we commenced a precautionary planning meeting and advised operators to review pandemic management plans. Our occupational health specialist group, health and safety managers and emergency response people quickly stepped into action.
As OGUK’s HSE director my role involved identifying core work streams and understanding issues which needed to be resolved.
We established the pandemic steering group with a good cross-section of our industry and by adopting an agile way of working, we were able to address the many Covid-19 issues by working through smaller targeted sub-groups such as aviation, medical, logistics to identify solutions to problems as they arose.
Our strategy identified four key themes: reducing the risk of Covid-19 being transmitted offshore, maintaining helicopter operations, ensuring the health and safety of those working offshore and dealing with the logistics issues.
Planning and coordinating an industry-wide response also required us to communicate clearly with journalists, our members and the wider workforce.
As the UK went into lockdown, our communications increased again. Weekly briefings with media, OGUK board and council, workgroups and forums provided a drumbeat of feedback and messages going out to make sure we were all on the same page. Regular briefings were provided to politicians on the areas where we needed help and our council meetings were regularly attended by the UK energy minister.
Our work remained focused on keeping our essential workers safe as they ensured that the UK’s energy needs were met.
Our protocols on helicopter travel and the designation of categories has since been adopted globally, providing a coordinated and clear response to the safe removal of personnel with suspected Covid-19 from an offshore environment.
In all, our rapid response and coordinated approach helped deliver six key guidance documents, rolled out face coverings for offshore flights, delivered pre-flight screen practises, issued advice on vulnerable people, secured testing for symptomatic essential workers, collated accommodations options to ensure safe passage of our people, secured changes on government business support schemes, to name but a few.
There is a missing piece of the jigsaw for me right now, and that’s asymptomatic testing of our workforce using NHS test centres without compromising frontline NHS and care home operations.
I believe this is essential as it allows for offshore operations to adopt a pragmatic approach to increasing manning levels back to where they were pre-pandemic and it is a further demonstration to the workforce that we are concerned with their wellbeing.
The open and continuous sharing of our experiences within our industry, with other sectors and with government will be critical as we look to an uncertain future. While we must now start working on how to bring this essential industry back on its feet, we must also take the time to learn and reflect.
It’s a story of continuous improvement and we must never allow ourselves to become complacent.