The size and shape of offshore workers in the North Sea oil and gas industry has been found to be “a lot bigger” than two decades ago and larger than the average American male, according to new research.
New findings from a two-year joint research project by Robert Gordon University and industry body Oil & Gas UK have been published in an academic journal following the completion of their high-tech study last year.
It’s the first in-depth research conducted into offshore size in nearly 30 years.
Portable 3D scanning was used to measure 588 male offshore workers.
A total of 26 measures, including shoulder width, chest girth, neck girth, and a series of volumetric measurements of the arm, leg and torso were taken.
Workers were also measured in different standing and sitting postures and in form-fitting shorts as well as full survival suits.
The research used the measurements to develop a prediction model for workers escaping out of a helicopter window.
The frame size selected for the study was 432 x 356 mm and represents the Civil Aviation Authority’s (CAA) minimum acceptable size for an escape window on a helicopter.
In comparison to a study done during the 1980s, the average offshore worker’s weight is now 19% higher than 30 years ago.
Meanwhile, the average difference in percentage of weight of an offshore worker in comparison to a UK civilian is now 9%.
It is thought the increase in weight could be related to the changing age demographic which has risen from 32 to 41-years-old.
Arthur Stewart, from RGU’s Faculty of Health and Social Care,said: “Male offshore workers are bigger than we might have anticipated. Comparing our data with other national databases, they are bigger not only than UK civilians as a whole, but also Americans, who are considered to be the largest nation worldwide.
“While it has been previously known that protective service workers, such as firefighters, may be bigger than their host populations, offshore workers have never been reported in this way before.
“Larger individuals have increased space requirements which can compromise their ability to pass one another in a restricted width, and this is exacerbated when they wear the personal protective equipment required offshore.
“This has important implications in restricted space settings, particularly in terms of safety and as decommissioning starts to appear more likely in the North Sea.”
However, the study found size wasn’t everything.
“Those who fail the window egress test are probably bigger in any single dimension than those who pass, but that probability is not 100 percent – it is between 70 and 80 percent,” Stewart said.
“It seems that a few very large individuals can escape through this small aperture, and we should perhaps focus on trying to predict why some smaller individuals can’t.”
Stewart worked alongside Knowledge Transfer Partner associate Robert Ledingham and senior business analyst Moira Lamb and medical advisor Dr Graham Furnace during the study.
The work had been prompted out of industry-wide recognition that existing size information on offshore workers was out-of-date.
Mick Borwell, health and safety director with Oil and Gas UK, said:”Many offshore facilities were designed more than 40 years ago based on size information of offshore workers available at that time which we know to be very different today.”
Stewart added: “These findings show us for the first time the extra value of combining individual measurements, and the limitations of an approach which treats the body as a rigid shell in predicting window egress.
“In terms of allocating seats on helicopters, our study highlights a range of possible measurements which could be used to identify larger individuals who should be seated adjacent to larger windows.
“Although bideltoid (shoulder) breadth may be outperformed by other measurements, it is unquestionably the most practical and reliable to measure, and less affected by breathing artifacts than others we could have chosen.
“Short of assessing all 62,000 offshore workers in the North Sea by scanning or require them to do window egress trials of actual windows on helicopters, all of which are larger than the CAA minimum, we hope to augment the study with future work which will examine spine and shoulder flexibility.”