Keeping offshore operations safe during the COVID-19 crisis

George Winter, group QHSSE manager at Telford Offshore, talks about ensuring safety at offshore sites during the coronavirus pandemic

HSE, Safety, QHSSE, Offshore, Telford

During the COVID-19 crisis, we have all gained a greater understanding of, and appreciation for, the hard work and sacrifice of frontline workers across industries. From doctors, nurses and municipal workers, to police officers, retail executives and couriers, millions of people are risking their health every day to keep us safe and healthy, ensuring our lives run smoothly as possible.

Offshore production workers are no different. Working day and night, away from family and friends for prolonged periods of time, in often harsh weather conditions, they are a vital link in the global supply chain for fossil fuels. Without their efforts, there would be no petrol to fill the pumps or gas to run power stations. While most of us here on terra firma are confined at home, they are, literally, helping to keep the lights on.

The facilities and vessels from which offshore production is carried out are, by necessity, space constrained. Work shifts can last in excess of four weeks at a time. There is, therefore, a high risk of any disease outbreak spreading rapidly through teams based on offshore Vessels.

Here at Telford Offshore, leading provider of work vessels and accommodation facilities used by offshore operators, we have been early and decisive in our response to the COVID-19 outbreak. Earlier in the year, we began to monitor the spread and impact of the virus in China. By late January, it was clear to us that our offshore vessels would not be able to operate if crews became incapacitated by the virus or were placed into quarantine for any period of time.

Telford has extensive measures in place since February 9 in an effort to keep all vessels operating on their current projects and mitigate risk to personnel. Every vessel in the Telford fleet has qualified doctors from International SOS (ISOS), a medical and travel security services company, on board, with ready access to a contagious disease specialist and assistance from ISOS emergency centres.

We have a comprehensive in-house COVID-19 response plan that is regularly updated as we receive further advice and guidance from ISOS and the World Health Organisation (WHO). Throughout our locations, we have COVID-19 information and guidance posters displayed prominently and all personnel receive training in COVID-19 from a programme created by ISOS.

Before they even travel to one of our vessels, all personnel must complete a health questionnaire. This helps us identify anyone who may be in the high-risk category. Temperature checks are also conducted on land before anyone is transferred offshore.

As a temporary measure for the duration of the crisis, we are reducing the number of rotations on and off each vessel, reducing the chance of infection being brought on board.

All our vessels have been provided with ample supplies of personal protective equipment, including masks, gloves, body suits, face shields, non-touch thermometers, additional medical equipment and medicines. We are also working to source infrared equipment of the same standard as systems used at airports to enable us to constantly monitor all personnel on board.

Doctors continuously test personnel on our vessels for high temperatures and keep a careful lookout for any sign of COVID-19 symptoms. Should anyone on one of our vessels register a higher than normal temperature, they are individually quarantined on board and placed under observation for 14 days.

Interaction with other personnel will be strictly limited to one medic and one designated steward, both of whom will be equipped with all necessary personal protective equipment. If the patient’s condition deteriorates, they will be medically evacuated ashore for further investigation and treatment. Our partner, ISOS, will provide full support for all personnel sent ashore for medical treatment.

Offshore work can be stressful, even in normal conditions, and we fully recognise the extra emotional strain that COVID-19 places on our personnel. We therefore provide emotional and psychological support services at every Telford Offshore site and we actively encourage our team members to avail of these services.

This is a comprehensive list of measures and one that is challenging to implement at remote offshore sites. It is, however, essential. The dedication of our personnel that spans across our onshore and offshore Telford teams has so far enabled our vessels to continue operating, without interruption, throughout the crisis.

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