In June 2018 I wrote a blog in which I described what kind of work I actually do, since for many of my friends it is kind of hard to imagine. The office part of my job sounds all too familiar, but the offshore part of the job is something completely different. For most, the offshore industry is something they obviously heard about, but typically they find it hard to understand what exactly is happening there.
I have a non-standard role in the offshore industry: I am not part of the regular crew. I only go offshore for special projects, whether it being the installation of equipment I manufactured or supplied, for trouble shooting relating to that equipment or for maintenance of said equipment.
Explaining what I do, does help people to understand, but they still wonder: “What does your day really look like and what is it like, to do whatever the hell you are doing overthere?” Before actually doing anything, you first need to go offshore and that in itself is an adventure.
As pictures tell more than a thousand words, please have a look at some of the experiences I had over the three years.
It all starts with training, since working offshore is very much focused on safety. Safety for yourself and for the people around you.
For offshore oil and gas in the Netherlands, you need to have either Nogepa 0.5 or Opito Bosiet. This training includes first aid, sea survival, fire fighting, helicopter underwater escape training (HUET) and working with a life jacket with a compressed air cilinder.
Yup, this is your ticket to go to work the fancy way: by helicopter. And if your really lucky, you’re the only passenger (had that a few times).
However, if you are working in Offshore Wind, your typical means of transportation is a Crew Transfer Vessel (CTV) and you need to climb the structure, rather than getting out of the heli on a helideck. Thus, more training required:
- GWO Working at Height (or how to escape from the nacelle of a 100 m wind turbine)
- GWO Safety at Sea (which is already covered in your previous Nogepa/Opito Bosiet training), primarily to practice boat landings – under bath tub conditions to be honest
Your training is completed with a medical check and a basic course on safe working in general: VCA in the Netherlands or MIST in the UK. At least, you think your training is completed, because before being allowed offshore, the operator of the platform usually has a few online training courses, with exams you need to pass first.
A special online course is required when going to an offshore structure with a larger vessel equipped with a heave compensated gangway. In other words, a gangway which neutralises the wave motions of the vessel. This is called a walk-to-work vessel.
It seems like a lot of training – and it is – and in case you wonder why: remember Piper Alpha or more recently the Deepwater Horizon? That’s why. Working offshore is generally more dangerous than working onshore and they want you to be prepared as well as possible. Going offshore is expensive to start with and once on the platform or structure, the consequences of ignorance can be severe. Still, although the working environment offshore is more dangerous than most environments, eg construction, onshore. The strong focus on safety is the main reason, however, that the number of incidents, accidents, wounded or killed persons, is much lower offshore than it is onshore (as a percentage of working hours).
In my world, there are two types of offshore structures:
- The ones where oil and/or gas is present and being processed. I am not qualified to work here. Nor am I allowed to take pictures. I only visit these platforms to go to other platforms, and use them as a hub. Or to grab lunch, that too.
- Structures that have no oil and/or gas, either because the wells are shut down or the structure is not related to oil and gas in the first place, eg wind farms. These kind of structures are the ones at which I am doing my work.
PS I do supply equipment for both types.
And then you’re off to the heliport, check in your toolbag, check in yourself and personal luggage, go through customs, watch the safety induction video for the helicopter, get your survival suit and ear plugs, put on said survival suit, which is quite a struggle. Then you collect the life jacket and you’re ready to board.
Oh wait…. they told you so during your offshore training: “Never forget to keep your boarding pass at hand!”. You remember this vital piece of information when you are asked to hand over the boarding pass and you realise it is still in the pocket of your jeans.
Take off life jacket, open survival suit, dig into your pocket, zip survival suit and put life jacket back on. Now you are ready, at last!
How can you tell you are a rookie? Simple, while you are excited about flying in a helicopter, everybody around you is asleep.
Unfortunately, it is not always possible for me to go offshore using a helicopter. On the abandoned platforms I have supplied skids, these skids are installed on the helideck. Which means there is no space left for a helicopter. The only way to get to the platform then is to hop aboard a vessel.
Although I really like flying in a helicopter or joining on a sea-going vessel, most of the time the fun really starts when you need to get onto the platform. But that will be covered in another blog.