In 2020, Offshore Energies UK chief executive Deirdre Michie said that female representation in industry was ‘not good enough’. Yet two years on, women in the sector still face challenges in accessing basic facilities and amenities offshore.
A recent article by the Aberdeen X-Industry Support Network (Axis) shared a statement from one of its members that read: “Before we put tampons and pads in all of our bathrooms, I used to walk to the toilet with a tampon tucked up my sleeve, praying that nobody would stop to talk to me on my way.”
A 2019 article reported that Swire Pacific Offshore, Subsea 7 and Royal Boskalis received criticism over failing to provide a designated place to discard sanitary products.
On one occasion, Swire handed a female worker a plastic box and a plastic bag as a substitute sanitary bin. In another, one woman was told by a male captain on a Subsea 7 vessel to find the only other female onboard and “ask what she does.”
This is despite companies in the UK being legally obliged to provide appropriate bins.
Project execution lead Olayide Akinsomi corroborated the story: “I can relate with this as most of the offshore installations I have visited and worked on tend not to stock sanitary products in the bond, or to have dedicated sanitary bins onboard.”
An anonymous female offshore worker commented: “There should be an existing company-wide approach, not a makeshift effort on individual boats.
“I don’t believe I am doing anything wrong trying to highlight the issue and to be honest with you it has annoyed me a lot over the years. I’m yet to work on a vessel with any clear policy.”
Availability of sanitary products offshore
A 2020 survey found that only 16% of respondents said they have access to feminine hygiene products that were available to purchase at the bond.
Project lead of Axis group and programme coordinator for Wood, Sarah Clark explains: “It’s no different from toilet paper, this is a basic human needed thing.
“It doesn’t cost a lot of funds and it doesn’t cost much to maintain and it’s such an easy fix.”
Ms Clark told Energy Voice: “I used to run my pill packet together so I didn’t have to deal with it because I just couldn’t be bothered thinking about it and dealing with it.”
Every platform approaches providing sanitary products differently, some supply them in the bond to be purchased on-site, others stock them in toilets and provide bins but some make women go to the onboard medic.
“You’d have to go to the medic to get stuff, which is crazy because it’s not a medical issue, it is just a basic human necessity,” Ms Clark described.
This lack of consistency between platforms means that women offshore don’t know what will be available for them when they arrive on-site, making it harder to prepare.
Ideally, all platforms would provide these products and facilities, however, Clark explained: “If companies just say ‘we don’t have facilities on this platform’ that’s great because you can know in advance and you can prepare.”
The Axis project lead spoke on being mindful of employee needs:
“Some women are in excruciating pain and I’m sure if they knew ‘I’m going offshore and it’s my period’ they probably either change their strip, which is fine and we should be able to accommodate that, or they would stockpile some paracetamol and ibuprofen.
“Let’s provide something where someone can quickly deal with it and get on with their day and not have to sit and think about the embarrassment of the anxiety.
“Having companies be mindful of that and the psychological impact of that.
“It’s also such a small act that it leads to other small acts which encompass the whole overall ‘I feel considered in this environment.”
The lack of facilities on a platform can affect an employee’s mental health and with something like menstruation, it does not only happen once.
“Every woman experiences this and it’s more apparent when something has happened in your life so say you’ve had a child. Your period is going to be crazy the year after you have a child” Ms Clark explained.
“When you go into heavy menopause and it last like 15 years and your period goes crazy during that time. That’s a huge chunk of a woman’s working life so it’s incredibly embarrassing if you get caught off guard and you have to go to a meeting or you’re offshore, you’ve got nowhere to go or nowhere to get stuff.”
Failing to provide these essential facilities can make female offshore workers feel unwelcome and “not even been considered as part of the design”.
However, the availability of menstrual products “has gotten better overall”.
Ms Clark explained: “I know in my company a lot of men talk about it because they’ve seen the Davina McCall interview or the documentary, are the offshore workforce looking at that, don’t know but probably. Has that caused a step change in connectivity? Maybe not.”
The lack of access to sanitary products is not the only issue that affects women offshore, the lack of facilities, under-representation and PPE can all impact a woman’s experience offshore.
Asked about impressions of female representation offshore, Ms Clark added: “If anything the offshore figures for women have gotten worse – when [Ms Michie] said that it was like 3% and now it’s down to 1.7 or 1.8% and that is partly because of COVID.”
One minor improvement could be made with two-piece overalls, ms Clark explained the hassled of taking having to take off the whole suit, two-piece PPE prevents this.
Additionally, “when you’ve got your period you go to the bathroom a bit more.” she went on to explain, exacerbating the issue.
“There are other things that can be done to feel more inclusive.” Ms Clark added
“When a woman comes on board don’t make a fuss that she’s a woman and she’s taking a room, have rooms dedicated in advance for women coming offshore or when they do come offshore, have a procedure in place.”
Nevertheless, she believes the sector is moving in a positive direction, and has “probably gotten better” as more companies become “a bit more switched on to it,” she explained.
Yet even those who are actively addressing issues may not share their experience to encourage others.
“I know they have the stuff out there but they don’t want to say they do or they just don’t think to shout about it, which is a shame because they’re leading the way,” she posited.
“I think in general things are improving and you see pockets of goodness we just need to make sure that goodness is wider spread.”
Ms Clark’s advice for how to improve the experience of women offshore was “Work with women to identify what the problems are because they’ve got the answers, ask us.”
Explaining: “You can’t underestimate these small acts because a lot of these small acts build to an overall better experience for everyone.
“There are lots of things we can do beyond just having better sanitary products but they’re all pretty simple, you don’t have to go and rejig the whole infrastructure.
“This isn’t about women and only women, when you improve the experience of women everyone else’s experiences get better too.”
AXIS has a meeting with OIM that is scheduled for 1st September, to address the issues discussed above.
Ms Clark said: “They set the tone from the top and if they’re not doing it, let’s learn from each other and let’s all bring this industry on a big journey which is very easy to do.”