New training keeps offshore workers safe in transit

This month, our doctors have been reviewing and updating their skills, to ensure we can offer trusted training, following Oil and Gas UK’s new requirements for offshore medical workers.

New medical requirements mean offshore workers have to pass medicals ensuring they are fit to use Emergency Breathing Systems, the kit designed to keep them safe should there be an accident on any helicopter transferring them to or from their off-mainland place of work.

We’ve been involved in certification for offshore workers for many years: correct assessments are vital where workers are close to unpredictable weather and potentially life-threatening conditions. The latest changes to process were recommended by the Civil Aviation Authority following a helicopter crash in 2013, resulting in the death of four offshore workers.

Oil and Gas UK, the industry’s member organisation, has now changed the training for workers that go offshore, to ensure they’re fit for work, using a new compressed gas emergency breathing system. This new assessment is vital to ensure anyone using the system is aware of the risks and mitigations around barotrauma, also known as decompression sickness, a range of injuries caused by changes in air or water pressure.

Workers are now required to complete survival course in-water training exercises with compressed-air emergency breathing apparatus (EBS) to ensure they can correctly operate the equipment, in a controlled environment. That’s where Express Medicals comes in.

Before taking part in the course, trainees must have an assessment of their medical fitness to participate. This implies that a worker who needs to be certified for offshore work and has not already completed the survival training will now also need an assessment of their fitness to train with the new compressed air apparatus.

Express Medicals makes this assessment at the same time as the standard Oil and Gas UK assessment and will issue a certificate ‘fit for training’, or not.

Objective of medical assessment

The objective of the fitness for in-water EBS training is to:

  1. ensure trainees have understood the nature of the hazard of barotrauma, that some medical conditions may increase the risk, and the importance of providing an accurate medical history in order to individually assess risk
  2. classify trainees as either ‘fit’ or ‘unfit’ for in-water EBS training as simply as possible
  3. ensure all trainees have received explanation of risk mitigation measures in general, and that trainees with medical conditions have received personalised risk mitigation advice relevant to their condition
  4. provide documentary confirmation of fitness status, for employers and training providers


How we assess

The candidate completes a questionnaire. One of our medical staff will sit with them and clarify any positive answers.  At this stage, we discuss the hazard and risk of barotrauma, and ensure the candidate has had sufficient opportunity to provide an accurate medical history and understands why that is important. For candidates without any relevant medical history, we can then certify fitness to participate in training without need for further tests or physical examination.

For candidates with a history of relevant medical condition(s), we will examine the respiratory and/or ENT systems, and/or performance of lung function tests where relevant, unless we obtain a clear history of absolute contraindication to training (in which case the examining doctor may directly certify unfitness for training).

Where examining doctors suspect a clinical diagnosis relevant to EBS in-water training, despite lack of history, they will undertake clinical examination and/or lung function testing and/or other relevant tests as considered appropriate.

Some conditions that might affect fitness to train are:

Lung conditions, for example –   Asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD, Pneumothorax, Sarcoidosis or a history of Bullae.

Ear Nose and Throat conditions, for example – difficulty in clearing their ears, tracheostomy, perforated tympanic membrane etc.

Why training has changed

Following a helicopter crash off Sumburgh in August of 2013 in which four passengers died (two from drowning, one from cardiac arrest, and one from an incapacitating head injury) the Civil Aviation Authority directed the UK oil and gas industry to introduce a more easily deployed emergency breathing system.The ‘PSTASS’ (Passenger Short-Term Air Supply System) compressed-air breathing apparatus was introduced to service for passengers on offshore helicopter flights in the UK sector of the North Sea in 2015.