OVERWEIGHT oil workers at two of the North Sea’s biggest firms are being asked to go on a diet – because they are taking up too much space on helicopters.
The Press and Journal can reveal that Shell and Transocean are targeting staff with a waist size larger than 37in.
Spaces on offshore flights are at a premium following the grounding of the EC225 Super Puma fleet late last year.
Now, both companies have brought in a healthcare firm to help workers beat the bulge so they can get more people on to each aircraft.
The increasing waistlines of workers has been putting a strain on oil companies for years.
In 2005, the Civil Aviation Authority increased the weight allocation for each helicopter passenger from 14st to 15st 6lb – a jump of 20lb – following a survey of the average weight of workers.
It means it takes fewer people to reach the weight limit for an aircraft now, with oil companies laying on more flights – at a potential cost of thousands of pounds a time – to get their staff offshore.
Last night, Innovative Health Solutions (IHS) – the firm drafted in by Shell and Transocean to help their employees get fitter – said the problem had been made worse by the grounding of Super Puma EC225s following two serious incidents in the North Sea last year.
Since the latest ditching on October 22, dozens of the helicopters have been grounded in the UK, with only a limited number returning to service. Restrictions on the model will not be lifted until maker Eurocopter gets to the bottom of a gearbox problem.
Industry body Oil and Gas UK said the main impact of the grounding had been felt in the central North Sea, where most of the UK’s 14,600 offshore workers are based.
Last night, Unite union regional industrial officer Willie Wallace said it was unfair to single out oil workers for having put on a few pounds.
“There is the odd guy that has occasionally been told that they could be doing something about their weight,” he said.
“But we could all probably do with losing a few pounds.”
IHS director Louise Martin said the average weight of an offshore worker had increased by more than 3st in 10 years. And said they were costing their bosses dearly because they were too heavy to transport across the North Sea.
“The increase in average weight of an offshore passenger has resulted in oil companies spending millions of pounds on replacing lifeboats that could no longer accommodate their full capacity,” she said.
“Helicopter flights have also been affected in that they now carry fewer passengers to compensate for heavier personnel.
“This issue, coupled with the 225 helicopter technical problems still not being resolved, means there are simply not enough helicopter seats to take all required personnel offshore.”
Keith Temple, rig manager on the rig Transocean Prospect, said the programme gave employees an opportunity to achieve a healthier lifestyle.
A spokesman for Shell said it was just one of the ways the company was working with IHS to help staff keep fit and healthy.