Oil and Gas UK (OGUK) is planning a review of medical certificates which could limit the number of people going offshore with heart conditions.
According to a new report from the trade body, there were 301 offshore medical evacuations in 2019, up by a fifth year-on-year mainly due to cardiac issues.
Although the figures are low compared to the overall offshore workforce of around 50,000 in 2019, HSE director Trevor Stapleton said medical fitness standards “do need to be reviewed” and updated.
This could mean some people would be let offshore with “restricted certificates” or being told “I’m sorry, you’ve got that particular condition, you will not be able to go offshore”.
Cardiac issues was the largest single cause of evacs, consistent with the previous three years, and the third most common cause of people failing fitness to work tests, according to OGUK’s new health, safety and environment report.
People between 50-59-years-old were most prominently affected by cardiac issues in the tests.
Reviewing guidance around heart conditions offshore was meant to be completed by OGUK this year, Mr Stapleton said, but “Covid-19 sucked all our medical resources and so we’ve focussed purely on that”.
“It is a piece of work we’ll try to get to grips with in 2021.”
He added: “The knock-on effect might be some cases where you might let people go offshore with restricted certificates in terms of medical health, but, given the new thinking, maybe there might be certain areas where we say I’m sorry, you’ve got that particular condition, you will not be able to go offshore.
“We will work very closely with the unions to make sure that whatever is produced is fair and there’s clear reason and rationale as to why we’re doing it.”
Jake Molloy of the RMT Union confirmed they will be involved in a working group focussed on the problem.
He said: “It is an issue that we need to take cognisance of because the last thing you want is someone collapsing offshore and a family losing a loved one unnecessarily.
“If there’s a medical testing process that can perhaps highlight a condition exists, then that’s good for the invididual, the team they’re working for and for their family.
“It’s not about putting people out of work, it’s about insuring that their medical fitness which allows them to fulfill any given role at any given time.”
Mr Molloy said a more rigid medical testing process is in place for North Sea divers, and this could be a modification to that process allowing the industry to identify underlying problems.
The new HSE report, the first for OGUK combining health and safety and environment stats, also revealed a “significant increase” in the total number of oil and gas releases.
A total of 125 took place over the year, up from 101 in 2018, which is the highest since 2011, including three classed as “major”.
However, the number of those which could pose a danger to workers, reported under Riddor legislation, decreased year-on-year from to 67, from 85 in 2018.
The overall increase was down partially due to those reportable under EU legislation, and Mr Stapleton hopes actions OGUK is taking will bring the numbers down “over the next year or two”.
He said: “I’m not trying to dismiss those (EU reportables), but if you look at what they would cover, they certainly a lot of the non-process stuff as well. So it might be a diesel release from a pump or something like that, and that would be recorded as a hydrocarbon release.
“So my focus tends to be more around the Riddor, those which can pose a danger to the workers and that has decreased.
“I want to eliminate all the majors, then work on the significants and then address the minors.”