In an exclusive interview, Mr. Jason Griffin, Director of Clinical Governance and QHSE, Remote Medical International (RMI), discusses what it is being done in the industry to provide specialist medical support for remote workers, and what can be done to prevent injuries and subsequent delays on offshore wind farms, oil rigs and other isolated professions
RMI is a medical services and support organisation who work to save lives and protect the health and wellbeing of workers in hazardous job sites including mines. Their specialist teams protect those who work in extremely remote conditions on a daily basis.
SAFETY4SEA: What are the key challenges for people working in extremely remote conditions (offshore wind farms, oil rigs and other isolated professions) from your perspective?
Jason Griffin: Many of the challenges that offshore employees face are caused by a lack of preparation for living and working remotely, and this is because there is no one manual that can prepare workers for the varying levels of remote conditions around the world. One frequently recurring challenge faced by many is the management and supply of regularly taken prescribed medications, such as those needed in the management of chronic conditions, while others have prescriptions that are not available where they are going to be working. It is the responsibility of health professionals working on-site at remote and offshore job sites to screen employee health and physical capabilities. The results of these screenings, both pre-employment and ongoing, can make the difference between a worker staying employed or not, and therefore the workers can be motivated to hide serious medical conditions. Without declaring serious conditions, the employees will be unable to be prescribed the medications they need to manage their conditions which can lead to increased risks for themselves and their teams. The number of workers with extremely serious medical conditions that are not reported in order to stay in employment is a much larger number than will ever be documented.
S4S: What things need to be considered to prevent injuries and subsequent delays in such working environments?
J.Gr.: In order to prevent injury and subsequent delays, preparation is key, planning is essential, and it is highly recommended to engage experienced professional service providers for health and safety which are actively working in related fields. For projects operating in hard-to-reach locations at sea, ensuring the health and wellbeing of staff is mission critical and for companies like Remote Medical International (RMI), which provides health and medical support, the demand for our healthcare services over the past two years has increased rapidly. The effectiveness of health, safety and medical services can have a significant impact on the outcomes of injury treatment and prevention strategies. This is particularly important for maritime projects since they are prone to constant shifts in strategy, changes in equipment and personnel depending upon location, and varying local logistical and legal requirements. Consulting with experts in a given field, such as offshore medicine, is essential to ultimately preventing injuries and project delays in this type of volatile environment.
S4S: Are you satisfied with industry stakeholders’ response on the issue of providing medical assistance for their crew until today? How could your organisation help toward improving this?
J.Gr.: As someone who has worked in the industry as both a field provider and a client of medical services, I have been very impressed with the industry’s overall response to both the pandemic, and its forward-thinking approach as it begins to address the evolving health requirements of remotely located industries. Our customers prioritise the protection of the health and welfare of their workers and are invested in the value that professional health and safety provision delivers for the continuity of their operations. Understanding the dynamics at play on maritime projects is crucial in the delivery of effective health and safety provision. Factors such as air circulation, shared berthing, and the close proximity of the workforce at all times can all exacerbate issues of health and safety. Many of these factors are well-recognised within the healthcare industry, however, over the course of the pandemic, many standard procedures become neglected in industrial settings as projects struggled to continue normal operations. Continuous assessments of health services, crisis management plans, and overall injury prevention plans are essential and is something that RMI prides itself in offering to its clients.
S4S: What are the key actions that will make a step change in the health and wellbeing of workers in hazardous job sites?
J.Gr.: It is always a challenge to staff a proper workforce, especially in remote and austere locations. Organisations which prioritise the continuous monitoring of the health and wellbeing of the workforce report greater transparency and openness among the workforce with health and safety professionals, which enables the opportunity to better mitigate risks and issues before they develop into serious incidents. Having a constant presence of a medical professional also helps personnel to feel comfortable when reporting medical conditions and there to be less fear of the immediate threat of dismissal. This pressure can be eased further by ensuring that the employer has the resources to manage these conditions onsite. Corporate-wide health services for maritime projects are often ineffective since many are generally out of date and lack relevance; locally-informed health services have always proved the most successful, as medical experts with local expertise are better equipped to make a real difference.
S4S: How did you organization adapt its operations over the course of the pandemic?
J.Gr.: As the pandemic progressed, RMI reduced the number of personnel who were required to report to an office in person. Instead, we posted regular updates on our website directed at staff who were working offshore, meaning that constant communication was always in place. We also issued essential travel certificates to our field personnel who needed to travel internationally in the face of travel restrictions, which ensured that critical operations were able to continue uninterrupted.
S4S: Any lessons to be learned and best practices to be shared from your experience with people working in extremely remote conditions on a daily basis?
J.Gr.: I always recommend that maritime workers undergo preparation for isolation, as well as researching their work location, weather, onsite expectations and daily routine before departing for a project. In my experience, most people who have worked in remote and austere locations around the world enjoy the camaraderie of working with people in similar situations. It is also extremely useful for workers to ask questions prior to arriving onsite – simple questions can make all the difference, whether it be regarding the required socks and underwear or the legality to carry personal prescriptions into and out of the location they are being deployed to, and to determine what volume of medications they need for the duration of their trip.
S4S: If you could change one thing across the industry from your perspective, what this would be and why?
J.Gr.: I encourage maritime workers to speak openly and honestly when they are reporting pre-existing health conditions. As industry demand for specialist personnel increases, many organisations are having difficulty sourcing specialist workers who are able to work on remote job sites. On top of this, the average age of the specialist personnel needed to complete certain projects means that their health conditions often become a significant issue: management of chronic health conditions is an area that has come a long way but is not always reflected well in industry requirements.
S4S: Do you have any plans/ projects/ initiatives that you would like to share?
J.Gr.: Like the rest of the industry, RMI is currently going through a reactive phase in terms of managing its response to the pandemic as well as planning future operations and expansions. However, while many maritime projects are dealing with staffing challenges, RMI has continued to staff qualified medics for its maritime clients to ensure that operations run smoothly. The pandemic has forced a significant shift in many companies’ priorities around the world, and we have been reacting to these evolving industry requirements for the past two years, and will continue to do so.
S4S: What is your key message to industry stakeholders in order to improve health and safety at challenging working environments?
J.Gr.: It is essential that organisations consult with industry experts and secure locally relevant health experts to implement health campaigns on maritime projects, since project requirements can differ enormously from region to region. Finally, organisations should actively encourage workers to ask questions about all health and safety matters, no matter how trivial they seem.
The views presented hereabove are only those of the author and not necessarily reflect those of SAFETY4SEA and are for information sharing and discussion purposes only.
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