Survival Training Pays Off

When I was working in Aberdeen, Scotland in 2007 I had to fly out to oil and gas platforms in the North Sea. Regulations there require that anyone doing so has to undertake survival training in case a helicopter goes down in the sea while transporting people to the platforms. I previously documented my experience with survival training in Surviving Survival Training.

There have been a number of deadly crashes in the North Sea, and steps have been taken to mitigate the risk. One is that everyone has to wear a survival suit when they get on the helicopter. This allows them to survive for a long period of time if they find themselves in the frigid North Sea.

Part of survival training involves proper usage of the survival suits. Another part involves understanding how to escape from a helicopter that has been plunged underwater. Training people to do this involves strapping yourself into a helicopter simulator, and escaping after it has been plunged to the bottom of a 10-foot deep swimming pool. This exercise is repeated seven times, with three of them involving escape after the simulator has been turned upside down. This is what it looks like to escape the simulator, from the actual school that did my training:

Escaping the Helicopter Simulator

Survival training just paid off in a big way for sixteen rig workers and two pilots who had to ditch their Super Puma in the North Sea on the way to a rig:

Helicopter crash: 18 saved from sea

Not surprising that several had to go to the hospital after suffering from cold and shock. But this crash had a happy ending:

Sixteen oil workers and two pilots had an amazing escape last night after their helicopter was forced to ditch in the icy waters of the North Sea, 500 yards from a rig. All those on board were rescued and reported safe and well following a massive operation involving four helicopters and a flotilla of rescue craft.

Three of those from the Super Puma chopper were rescued by another helicopter. The other 15 were recovered by a platform lifeboat and taken to the installation.

The drama began shortly before 7 pm yesterday after the helicopter was forced to ditch in poor visibility 500 metres short of its destination, the BP platform 125 miles east of Aberdeen. Workers on the platform saw it come down and alerted Aberdeen Coastguard, which immediately sent out a mayday.

At least three emergency flares were set off from the helicopter. But, in a textbook operation involving a Nimrod aircraft from RAF Kinloss, and three other helicopters, including a Coastguard copter and a Sea King from RAF Lossiemouth, as well as a number of vessels, all the men were saved within two hours.

This is an amazing story. Sadly, the results aren’t usually so positive. Since 1969 there have been more than 30 fatal accidents involving helicopters in the North Sea. One incident in 1986 claimed 45 lives. Regardless of the amount of training, when a helicopter falls out of the sky the passengers don’t usually get the chance to put their training into action. But in this case they had a chance to put their training into action after they found themselves in a situation nobody ever wants to find themselves in.

22 thoughts on “Survival Training Pays Off”

  1. That is amazing Robert. They wouldn’t have lasted ten minutes without the survival suits. Cold water sucks the life right out of people.

  2. This is an area I don’t think our industry gets enough credit for. We are much safer than we used to be.

    My first job in a refinery the recordable injury rate was 12. (An RIR of 1 is one injury for every200,000 hours worked). Many of the 20 year employees were missing fingers or had other visible scars from workplace accidents. The head of safety had his doubts about ever getting the number below 10. When I left 4 years later we had implemented programs that drove the number below 5, getting to 1 million manhours without an injury was a big deal. A few years later it dropped to 1.87. Then below 1.0, and 0.5. They are receiving an award tonight for a 0.15 rate and 7 million man hours without an injury.

  3. Putting an RIR of 0.15 into perspective. Assume you had a 40 year working career and you logged 1,800 hours per year – you could only have 1 recordable injury in 18.5 lifetimes of work to achieve that level of safety.

    That means no cuts requiring first aid, nothing in stuck in your eye, no strains or sprains from over-exertion, no hearing loss, nothing dropped on your foot, no thermal or chemical burns.

    It is literally hundreds of times safer working in a refinery than it is to do chores around your house.

  4. King-
    That’s a terrific accomplishment. I am reminded that when Hoover Dam was built, more than 100 workers lost their lives in its construction. Today, we could probably hope for zero deaths in such a construction effort, except by freak accident.
    I also wonder abut a jobsite where 100 workers could die, with barely a peep, as was Hoover Dam.

  5. Benny – I can’t think of any construction job today where even a single death would be acceptable. I seem to remember that something like 18 workers fell to their deaths working on the Golden Gate bridge.

    BTW – The refinery where RR worked is also getting an award for maintaing an RIR of less than 0.3 for the last 3 years.

    When people think safe industries or high tech, I don’t believe that the oil and gas industry comes to mind. But some of the technology we are using is truly amazing.

  6. “I also wonder abut a jobsite where 100 workers could die, with barely a peep, as was Hoover Dam.”

    100 is actually pretty good.

    Coal mine deaths in China each year number in the thousands. They have a goal of trying to get the annual number of deaths to < 5,000.

    I just stumbled on a website that said China's work-related deaths fell to < 100,000 for the first time last year in a decade. Those Chinese workers might like to work at a site like Hoover Dam. It would be interesting to know how many Chinese workers died building their Three Gorges Dam.

    BEIJING (AP) — China’s work-related deaths fell below 100,000 last year for the first time in more than a decade, amid an increased government focus on accident prevention, state media reported Monday.

  7. Maury-
    I am scared of this economy Maury. In another year, you won’t be able to give away oil.
    Yeah, $10 is coming. I ain’t happy about it–it means suffering globally. Dreams deferred, denied. Empty bellies in SE Asia, China.
    But what is the case for global growth? It seems to be getting worse.

  8. @ KoK

    First as an old fart who has never worked in the oil patch but has always appreciated the resultant creature comforts let me say to those involved “ATTABOY” !

    With 30+ years in skilled trades, industrial, and manufacturing I appreciate also a widening concern for safety. Particularly given my plans to apply for a job that works with ammonia and will require haz mat training.

    But, c’mon you don’t really think your comparing apples to apples with:

    It is literally hundreds of times safer working in a refinery than it is to do chores around your house.


  9. The Leading Economic Indicator was up .4% for Jan. Benny. That’s the second monthly increase. The PPI was up .8%,with the core up .4% . Retail sales were up in Jan. as well. The recession is over man. It was over before Obama signed the stimulus bill,but we’ll keep that to ourselves. Oil will head back to $100+ fairly quickly imo. That’ll kill the economy again,and we’ll be back at square one. And around and around we go.

  10. It’s a monument to the men who died building the dam. It doesn’t say who they were, in particular. Another panel across the way lists the names of all the directors of the dam project, but this one says only that they labored here and found their final rest. There is a fairly disturbing bronze plaque showing men in work clothes calmly slipping underwater. “Poor guys” she says aloud. “Tomb of the unknown concrete pourer.”

    “Working for fifty cents an hour.” the wheelchair man says. ” A bunch of them where Navajo boys from the reservation.”

    Barbara Kingsolver “Pigs in Heaven”

  11. Maury-
    I hope you are right about the recession being over.
    I think you are wrong about oil prices playing much of a role in the global recession. My guess is that banks losing $3 trillion in US home loans, followed by global r/e and stock market losses north of $30 trillion, are more important.
    It’s going to be a few more seasons digging out from that, or maybe years. But from your lips to G-d’s ears.

  12. RBM – yes I do mean to compare the two. I work in an office now, but I did work in a refinery.

    I was never hurt at the refinery, but at home so far I have logged the following RIR injuries. I don’t even come close to the RIR record at a refinery, and they work routinely with stuff that can kill you. At home I have:

    Sliced open thumb with tree saw requiring stitches

    Burned hands cooking – multiple times

    Sliced open other thumb chopping food – to the bone, but refused stitches

    Sprained ankle stepping off ladder

    Stepped through ceiling in attic causing bruises/lacerations

    Shorted out battery on car with wedding ring, leading to 2nd degree burns on ring finger

    Yes, I am much safer at work.

  13. Sure,there’s a housing crisis Benny. But,what kicked it off? Easy credit and subprime loans didn’t help. But,it was $4 gas and $500 utility bills that did in a lot of folks. People that were living paycheck to paycheck were screwed when oil shot up. Milk producers are getting 80 cents a gallon,but it costs $4.50 at the store. Stores locked in those price increases when transportation costs shot up….and they aren’t giving it back,LOL.

  14. @ KoK

    Okaaaaay, so you are safer a work vs your home, two different environments, with 2 different levels of regulations.

    That’s still apples and oranges.

    Have at it, Bud !!!


  15. ‘At home I have..’

    Hey King, you are aware that you can take your safety training home?

    RBM is absolutely correct. I do not have a 10k gal tank anhydrous ammonia at home.

    So King, I am safer at home because I bring safety awareness home with me and also I have fewer hazards. My family is safer because we have fire drills, smoke detectors, and CO detectors.

    RR’s point is huge. The work place is orders of magnitude safer. Some of it new technology but most of it is training. I would suggest that more die each year from falling down the stairs with a handrail than in helo crashes.

  16. Robert. The topic of survival in and around the North Sea is sort of a two edged sword. While there is word of the oil production tapering off in the area there is much speculation on the use of wind and ocean currents for energy. Will some of that oil rig building technology and even safety standards be used in the building of wind and or ocean current turbines? J.C. Sr.

  17. You are right. I should know better. The last home RI was about 10 years ago, burning my wedding ring up. I’ve changed 4 or 5 car batteries with no problem. Maybe I’ve learned something in my old age.

  18. RBM – yes I do mean to compare the two. I work in an office now, but I did work in a refinery.

    I will lend some support to KoK. While one can argue that the comparison is apples and oranges – it is highly unlikely that I will have an accident at home that puts hundreds of lives in jeopardy – I understand what he is saying.

    I am far more conscious of safety at work, primarily because we focus on the hazards. In the oil industry, safety is pounded into your skull. It is impossible to walk out into a unit and not be very conscious of all the safety rules that have been drilled into your head. At home, I am far more likely to mow my lawn without eye protection than I am to walk into a process unit without eye protection.

    Despite the improvements in the safety records, it is still true that people die every year in the oil industry. It is a very big industry, and with such large numbers of people working in the industry (and not all companies having the same safety standards), people will continue to lose lives. But the more time we spend drilling the safety message into people’s heads (and that is particularly true of process engineers who are tasked with designing safe processes), the safer the industry will become.

    Cheers, RR

  19. RR forgets to mention that our fellow employees look out for us too. At work I would think nothing of stopping a coworker or contractor who was doing something unsafe. I am much less likely to tell my neighbor to wear eye protection or to take time to do a job safely.

    Over the years we have recognized that safety shouldn’t stop at the plant fence. I think that is one of the reasons that the numbers continue to go down. Maybe that is why I haven’t had a home RI in 10 years.

    BTW – we don’t offer survival training for airline passengers. Had the plane in New York had to ditch in the ocean or Long Island Sound where help wasn’t just a couple of minutes away the results might have been different.

  20. But,what kicked it off? Easy credit and subprime loans didn’t help. But,it was $4 gas and $500 utility bills that did in a lot of folks. People that were living paycheck to paycheck were screwed when oil shot up.
    Popular BS, Maury, and I suspect you know as much.

    Inevitably there are those who live close to the edge, and who get pushed over by slight changes. But that’s a minority.

    Spending on gasoline as a % of household income is about as low as it ever was. You can double, triple or quadruple it and it does not make much of a difference to the average household bottom line. Sure some get hurt more than other. Truckers took it in the nuts. But broadly speaking, high gasoline prices has a fairly minor impact.

    The thing that killed the economy was the sudden realization that house prices was not going to keep climbing 25% a year indefinately. Suddenly you couldn’t just treat your house as a piggy bank. There are other factors, of course: stagnant real incomes chief among them.

    BTW, here’s what’s going to cause the next recession: that bill for all the free bailout money our elected officitutes are spending so lavishly. You mark my words.

Comments are closed.