Mental health link with offshore rotas shouldn’t be overstated, says employment expert

The oil and gas sector shouldn’t be quick to draw a link between mental health issues and offshore rotas, an industry employment expert has said.

Alix Thom, skills and employment issues manager at industry body Oil and Gas UK (OGUK), said three-week, equal time rotas had been around for years – and that while many dislike the schedule, there are those who would keep it.

Ms Thom’s comments come amid a renewed call for action on the rotas following a mental health pledge from North Sea operators.

Energy giants BP and Shell are among those to have signed up to the Time to Change campaign, aimed at ending mental health discrimination in the workplace.

The Unite trade union welcomed the initiative, but urged operators to go a step further and work with contractors to move away from three on, three off (3/3) shifts.

Changes to 3/3 rotas were widely reported during the oil sector downturn as operators tried to cut costs.

A report in April from Robert Gordon University said those on 3/3 shifts are twice as likely as those on a 2/2 to experience ill health.

BP, which runs a 3/4 and 3 /5 pattern, said the findings of the RGU report would be reviewed by BP, along with members of the Offshore Contractors Association (OCA).

The firm also runs an employee assistance programme, designed to help workers 24 hours a day with daily challenges, including personal health.

Operators cannot always determine which shifts are assigned to contractors on their rigs.

Energy Voice recently revealed Shell was considering changing its shift patterns as part of a wider review to make its operations “sustainable and competitive”.

Contractors on Shearwater are understood to have a 3/3 schedule, though Shell employees work to a 3/4 rota.

A leaked report by a safety representative on Shell’s Shearwater platform said new shift patterns had left workers’ partners “struggling with home” life, with some being diagnosed with depression.

But Ms Thom said that while it can’t be discounted as a contributing factor to mental health issues, 3/3 rotas are not the whole picture.

She said: “The drilling community has been operating on a three and three basis for years.

“A number of organisations changed their rota in response to very difficult business conditions as a result of the downturn which began in 2014. We can’t shy away from the fact that a number of people are unhappy working it. We are, of course, aware of some people who do like it.

“I don’t think I would draw a direct correlation between working a 3/3 rota and developing mental health issues. Shift patterns will be just one of a number of things affecting mental health.

“It is an issue growing in awareness. Our members are aware that mental health is an important aspect of their workforce so it’s not a new consideration for our members.

“I think there are a number of companies that have signed up to the Time to Change campaign. The onshore workforce has also been through a very difficult time. It’s a way more complex picture than something that was to do with 3/3 rotas.

“The industry takes this like all health issues − very seriously. It’s something that we have discussed with trade unions in the past when the downturn first happened.”

Ms Thom added that shift patterns are a decision for individual companies who may use different rotations for reasons, including the distance to offshore platforms.

A spokesman for BP said: “BP is committed to changing how mental health is viewed in our workplace and support employees who may be facing problems. Our Time to Change pledge is just one part of this.

“Throughout the year, we hold a range of events and employee engagement sessions which provide opportunities for people to talk openly about mental health, whether that’s their personal experiences or the experiences of others.

“We also offer a number of resources online so that people who have a fairly busy work and home life can access information in their own time. In addition, BP provides a free and confidential Employee Assistance Programme (EAP) designed to assist employees 24/7 in managing life’s daily challenges, including personal health.

“A manager or co-worker can also call the EAP, in confidence, for guidance how to start a conversation with a colleague they are worried about.

“BP will review the findings in the RGU report, along with our colleagues in OCA companies and across industry.”

Unite regional organiser Tommy Campbell said: “Unite welcomes this pledge by BP and hopefully all other major oil and gas companies follow this good example too.

“However we would ask that BP work constructively with the Offshore Contractors Association employers and unions to move away from 3/3 rosters in light of the RGU survey highlighting the adverse effect on offshore workers mental health and wellbeing.

“BP might have a set rota for its own staff but there are people on their assets that BP needs to be in conversations with.

“If there are better rotas that BP deploys for their own employees then it would be welcome if they were to support the contractors that they hire to operate similar rotas that are better for the workforce.

“Any improvement on the 3/3 rotas at the moment can only be a good thing for peoples’ wellbeing and mental health.”

OCA declined to comment.

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Rota changes taking toll on mental health of North Sea workers and families, leaked report says

Rota changes taking the toll on the mental health of North Sea workers and families, leaked report says


Offshore rota changes are taking their toll on the mental health of North Sea workers and their families

The oil rig twins, Ocean Princess (left) and Ocean Nomad (second left) in the Cromarty Firth.

Unite the Union officials back Airbus’ latest copter safety steps

Union officials back Airbus’ latest copter safety steps


Written by  – 

Wreckage from the Super Puma crash in Norway, 2016.

Union officials have backed Airbus’ efforts to make its global fleet safe in the wake of a fatal Super Puma helicopter crash in Norway.

Safety checks introduced in the wake of the 2016 tragedy are being extended to certain models of aircraft currently operating in the North Sea.

Meanwhile, footage has emerged of a recent crash in South Korean, in an eerie reminder of deadly accidents in the UK.

France-based Airbus has said systems which can help detect gearbox wear and tear need to be inspected more often on the increasingly popular H175 model.

And the manufacturer has ordered the replacement of those systems on H155 helicopters, which have been used for oil rig flights in small numbers.

Unite regional officer Tommy Campbell said: “Any step taken by a company to improve helicopter safety is always welcome.”

Airbus’ spokesman said the application of upgrades across its global fleet showed its “commitment to continuous improvement”.

He said the measures included the use of “improved monitoring and detection systems” and were supported by Europe’s aviation watchdog.

Thirteen people died near Bergen in April 2016 when the rotor on a Super Puma detached. Iain Stuart, 41, from Laurencekirk, was among the victims.

Super Pumas were swiftly grounded, but aviation authorities in the UK and Norway infuriated trade unions in July 2017 when they lifted the flight ban.

The watchdogs said the aircraft could not return to action until certain modifications and upgrades had been made. They are yet to return to the North Sea.

Concluding their investigation in July, Norwegian authorities said the rotor broke off due to a “fatigue fracture” in a “second stage planet gear” in the main rotor gearbox.

They said the fault was “probably” caused by tiny pieces of debris wearing away at the component.

Airbus said the crash was “unpreventable”, despite similarities with a fatal accident that killed 16 people near Peterhead seven years earlier.

Also last month, the rotor detached from a South Korean military helicopter shortly after take-off, resulting in five deaths and one injury.

The incident involved a helicopter designed by Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI), with some gearbox components supplied by Airbus.

It is unclear whether those components contributed to the equipment failure.

A video of the incident appears to show at least one of the blades wobbling and breaking before the rotor came off.

Mr Campbell said: “Unite is very saddened to hear of the loss of life in another helicopter accident in Korea.

“In respect of the oil and gas industry, Unite is continuing with its campaign to keep the North Sea Super Puma free.”


Airbus declined to comment on the incident in South Korea.