Better than a real job

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					                                        Better than a real job
                            Offshore Life and what to expect as a Medic

When people ask me how to go about getting into the Offshore Industry, the first thing I try to
explain is what it’s actually like. With the amount of time and money involved in getting trained, it
pays to have a good idea of what you are getting into.

I suppose that to begin with, you should make sure you know what the job entails. Whilst some of
the pros sound great (good pay, lots of time off etc) some people find it very difficult to adjust to
the lifestyle. Below are some of the downsides:

       You will spend up to half the year or more on installations. I have been with my wife for
        ten years and have spent less than half that time in her company.
       Getting home late from work can mean getting home a couple of days late – not a couple
        of hours. Helicopter delays due to weather or technical issues can be very frustrating –
        especially if you have made plans.
       When you are on board you cannot drink. Ever. Not even at Christmas or New Year.
       The only shop within 100 miles will be one that sells toiletries, ciggies and sweets.
       When you are at work, you don’t get days off. Even if you do a four week trip (the normal
        shift length for Support Vessels) you won’t get a day off.
       It’s equivalent to working 42 hours a week every week of the year.
       For the duration of your time offshore you will be doing twelve hour shifts (although most
        fixed installations give you half a day off at Christmas or New Year).
       As the installation medic, you the sole provider of medical care for up to one hundred and
        fifty people. There is always a Doctor available to give you advice over the phone, but
        some people perceive the responsibility as being too much. Personally, I think you have
        the same amount, if not more, if you are working in a ward, but it is a subjective thing that
        only you can decide
       Your social life can suffer – concerts, parties, birthdays, weddings, Christmases and New
        Year are frequently missed.
       Some people find their time off difficult. Sounds daft, but some folk find it difficult to
        occupy themselves when everyone else is at work all day.

If you have a family, some of these can be exacerbated – especially if you have never worked
away from home. But then again, I’ve spoken to a lot of new parents reckon they actually have
more quality time with their kids than if they worked on shore.

Now that list is not me trying to put you off, I just felt it was important to point out the downsides,
as the course prices and time commitments are considerable. For the Medic’s course and the
Survival course you are looking at roughly £2000 to £2500. If you don’t live near the venue, you
will have living and accommodation costs on top of that. As for time, the initial Medic’s Course is
four weeks in total, with the Survival being three days.

As for the upside, well
     You have significantly higher wages than anywhere in the NHS or Armed Forces,
     You get up to half the year off (some companies are now giving folk thirty one weeks off a
     You have almost complete professional autonomy – you work alone and the only medical
         supervision is sitting in an office (usually in Aberdeen)
     You have a variety of roles you can choose between (more on that below)
     Normal jobs rarely involve traveling to Norway or South Africa for four weeks,
     You’ll never have to queue in traffic to get to work (plus, jumping on a helicopter is way
         cooler than sitting on the 06.30 bus to work).
     When you are offshore, other people cook your meals, do your washing and clean your
     When you wake up in the morning you are already at work. There’s no traveling.
     It’s better than having a real job!
The last point is a personal view of mine. Whenever I get a bit fed up of going offshore, I think
about having a ‘normal’ job onshore. The thought of getting up at the same time every day and
having to travel to the same place every day makes cold fingers of dread explore my innards. And
although you actually end up working more hours than ‘normal’ jobs, concentrating it in one batch
suits me better. One way to gauge is to ask yourself this question;

“Would you rather work eight hours a day for five days, OR twelve hours a day for three days?”

If it’s the latter then working offshore could well be for you.

So what does a Medic actually do?
Once you are actually offshore, you can expect a wide variety of job roles depending on where
you end up working. I am going to detail some of the more common ones that are found, but bear
in mind that this list is in no way definitive. Each Installation, Platform and Ship has its own
selection of jobs that are assigned to the medic. Some places are a bit heavier on the admin –
others have more emphasis on Occupational Health matters. If you are really unlucky, you’ll end
up somewhere that has no extra duties – all you do is diagnose and treat illnesses and injuries. It
sounds great at first, but after 4 trips, the boredom will drive you batty!

                                           Primary Roles
Before we go through the additional duties, we might as well look at the Medic side of things i.e.
the things you will do no matter where you are.
These include:
         First and foremost is the provision of medical care for the crew. You will be the only
            properly qualified Health Care Professional on board and as such it is all down to
            you. You will have a team of First Aiders, but at most they will have done an
            Advanced First Aid Course. As such you need to be able to recognize a wide range
            of signs and symptoms. The other thing you must be able to do is recognize your
            own limits. If you get stuck and are not sure what to do, you don’t have to muddle on
            and hope for the best. You will have a Company Doctor available on the end of a
         You will be responsible for the upkeep and confidentiality of all medical records. You
            will have a daily medical log and individual patient notes to write up whenever
            someone comes to see you. As for Confidentiality, the Offshore Installation Manager
            (OIM) does have the right to know if someone’s condition is liable to affect the safety
            of others. Other than that, you must maintain the same levels of confidentiality as you
            would in a hospital.
         Continual training for the onboard First Aiders. These are usually recruited from the
            catering crew, and as they will be your main helpers in an emergency, it makes good
            sense to train them well. Everything from taking a blood pressure to doing CPR can
            be covered. Usually it is up to you to develop and implement the training regime.
         You will also be responsible for ordering all the medication and medical equipment
            that is needed on board. Unless you are setting up a new sickbay this usually just
            involves re-ordering used up or out-of-date medication and equipment.

Those are the three main Medic roles. Below is a breakdown of some of the other duties you
might be assigned depending on where you end up working. Something to keep in mind is that
different Installations mean different jobs.

                                 Secondary/Additional Roles
Static Oil Platform
This is the type of place that most people think of when you say ‘Oil Rig’. A big platform with four
huge legs that disappear into the sea. These have generally been in place for two to three
decades and the role of Medic is normally well defined. Additional roles can include…
     Testing the water for Chlorine content
     Conducting Health Checks
     Health Promotion (Health At Work Awards etc)
Usually, the older Platforms are fairly cushy numbers. Some will have a dedicated Helicopter
Admin clerk and a Safety Officer. The crew changes are regular, and you should have fairly
decent facilities and an established crew.

FPSO Units (Floating Production and Storage Offshore)
These are a different beast all together. They do the same job as a Static Platform, but their origin
leads to their diversity. FPSOs start life as Oil Tankers. They are then converted so that they
have Oil Processing equipment on the main deck and storage tanks down below. They are then
placed in a location where they are held in place with a complex series of anchors and oil pipes.
Their main advantage is that once the oil runs out, they can be towed away to another location
and carry on doing their job. Their main disadvantage is that, being a converted boat, they pitch
and roll a lot during bad weather. Secondary roles on FPSOs can include
     Helicopter Admin and Cabin Allocation
     Upkeep of the COSHH system (Care of Substances Hazardous to Health)
     Health Promotion
     Occupational Health Surveillance
     Manual Handling Assessments and training
     General Admin duties (having a good working knowledge of PC Office packages is a
         great advantage)

Drilling Rigs
In the UK, these come in two varieties – Jack Ups and Semi-subs.

Jack-Ups have long metal legs that are planted in the seabed to provide stability for their drilling
operations. As these legs cannot be too long, Jack-Ups are generally found working close to land
where the water is relatively shallow (although you do get some that venture further out).

Semi-Subs float on partially submerged pontoons, but are also stabilized. These can be found
working in much deeper water than Jack-Ups.

The atmosphere on Drilling Rigs is completely different to that of Platforms and FPSOs. As
drilling contracts are usually quite short, the crews are much more transient – and the work rate is
much more frenetic. I have always felt much busier on Drilling Rigs. Even when the job
description seemed less taxing than other places, there just seemed to be more going on. As for
extra duties, they can be numerous
       Helicopter Admin and Cabin Allocation
       Upkeep of the COSHH system
       Health Promotion
       Safety Inductions for people new to the Rig
       Upkeep of the crews’ training matrix
       Arranging training courses for the crew
       Manual Handling Assessments and training
       General Admin duties
       And if you are able, helping the Radio Operators fix the Satellite TV system when it goes
          on the blink!

Support Vessels
This category is the most diverse as support vessels come in all shapes and sizes. The biggest
are the Diving Ships. These routinely have a complement of over 130 people. They will also have
Divers who can present you with a new set of challenges. You may be asked to do pre- and post-
saturation checks and you might have to try and diagnose them without actually being able to see
them! This would happen if they came down with something whilst in saturation. If you fancy this
type of work or find you are doing a lot of it, there are specialist Dive Medic courses you can do.

Then there are Pipelaying ships, Trenching Vessels and Seismic Vessels. These all carry out vital
roles in the offshore industry and they all need medics. The main thing that they have in common
is that the Medic can sometimes be the Radio Operator as well. However, this is becoming less
prevalent as the HSE have started issuing guidelines covering suitable secondary roles for
Medics. After all, in an emergency a Medic/R.O. would be responsible for looking after the
casualties and sending off the distress signals.

This can frighten some folk off, but the day to day duties of the Radio Op are not all that difficult.
Time consuming, but not difficult. What is difficult is the course you will be sent on to qualify you
as a Radio Operator. The GMDSS course can be overwhelming if you have no previous
experience of radios and satellite phone systems. There is a lot of information to take in.

You may also get involved in welfare items such as running the video library or organizing quiz
nights etc. But this is usually up to you – as these activities are voluntary, you can usually opt out.

So when combined, the additional tasks can look like this;
    Helicopter Admin and Cabin Allocation
    Upkeep of the COSHH system
    Health Promotion
    Safety Inductions for people new to the Rig
    Upkeep of the crews’ training matrix
    Arranging training courses for the crew
    Manual Handling Assessments and training
    General Admin duties
    Upkeep of the GMDSS Log
    Maintenance of the Telephone system
    Maintenance of the Radio System (including antennae and batteries)
    Helicopter operations (i.e. forwarding all the details to the pilots and keeping in contact
      with them as they come and go)
    Communications with other Vessels or Platforms
    Personnel tracking during Crew Changes when in Port (more difficult than it sounds as
      everyone, except you, goes to the pub as soon as the ship ties up alongside the quay)

When you look at that list you will see why not that many people enjoy working on Support
Vessels long term. But one advantage of being so busy is that once you have worked on one for
a while, everywhere else seems a bit easier.
I actually count myself lucky that my first job was on one. I was regularly putting in 14 hour days
for 3 out of 4 weeks on board. The admin workload was very time consuming and I was trying to
learn everything at once. I was lucky that the folk on board were a great bunch (FlexInstaller in
1997-98) and really helped me out – so I learned a lot and I learned how to do a lot efficiently.

                                         Closing Comments
So, that is it. The pros, cons and jobs you may find when you start working offshore. The list is in
no way definitive – it’s taken purely from my own experience. Other medics will have other
viewpoints and as every platform is different, you may find that you see or do little of what I have
written. The best way is to see it for yourself. If you think you can handle being away from home,
it can be a great way to make a good wage, further your clinical experience and expand your
horizons (and you’ll never have to do another bed-bath).

One of my favourite memories, so far, was checking First Aid Kits in the Lifeboat of a Pipelaying
ship in Brazil. A warm wind blew through the open Lifeboat door and I just sat and stared at the
sun setting over the Atlantic Ocean. The alternative would have been driving through the rain on
a dark, winter’s morning in the West End of Glasgow..

If you speak to Grumbleguts on the forum, their best moment was “lying on a heli-deck in October
in a still, silent Norwegian Fjord watching the most fantastic Northern Light display! The pod of
killer whales beside us was pretty awesome too………”

Like I said - it’s better than a real job.

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