By Duncan Higham, VP Global Strategy, Remote Medical International

As the world continues to grapple with a global pandemic, companies with offshore wind operations are looking at ways to improve processes while reducing costs. A major part of this is maintaining the health and safety of offshore and remote employees. And while every organization has health and safety plans in place, they may need a checkup or update.

Health and safety plans

©Earl Harper

Offshore work environments are challenging for a host of reasons including their remote locations and the physical challenges of the work and work environment. These all create unique health and safety challenges, each of which should be addressed in a health and safety plan.

The facts speak for themselves and underscore the need to ensure the plan in place is airtight when it comes to responding to injury and illness on an offshore wind farm. These statistics were reported for 2019 by the Global Offshore Wind Health and Safety Organization. Of the 865 incidents reported in 2019:

  • 41 incidents resulting in an emergency response or medical evacuation
  • 93 incidents occurred during lifting operations
  • 91 incidents during access/egress
  • 76 incidents during manual handling
  • 291 incidents occurred in a turbine
  • 245 incidents occurred on vessels
  • 274 incidents occurred onshore

Most plans make assumptions based on best case scenarios. For example, if the worker has a medical issue that requires evacuation, the trained first aider can administer CPR during the 45 minutes it takes for the helicopter to arrive.

The best plans, however, anticipate worst case scenarios and provide answers to questions like these:

  • What happens if the helicopter is not available or cannot come for several hours and the worker needs to be evacuated by boat?
  • What is the process for evacuating the worker by boat? What is the process for getting them to shore?
  • Who is trained to safely lower the worker from the turbine while administering first aid?
  • Is the first aider able keep the worker alive for several hours? Anything over 10 minutes in a critical case would be a significant ask of a first aider.
  • Is a working automated external defibrillator (AED) available? Who is trained to use it?

They look at multiple “what if” scenarios for every type of incident. Unfortunately, most people make broad assumptions when creating these plans and often find themselves unprepared. Leveraging the expertise of an independent quality, health, safety and environment (QHSE) advisor will help ensure that plans include emergency action checklists and communication plans that keep teams safe and able to effectively handle a medical emergency.

Keep in mind, offshore medical teams are not just treating employees who visit the ship’s hospital; they must also be prepared to deliver care in a 200-ft turbine or be able to lower the patient to safety.

Testing

Even the best plan may be ineffective if it hasn’t been tested. This takes two forms: tabletop exercises and running scenarios on location.

©Earl Harper

A tabletop test is a meeting where simulated emergencies are discussed and exacting details are worked through. The process provides insights into the comprehensiveness and strength of the plan, uncovers weaknesses and provides an opportunity to improve the plan before an actual emergency transpires. Typically, a QHSE advisor will run three scenarios — man overboard, medical evacuation, CTV collision at sea — in a non-physical setting.

The next step is to run these same scenarios physically using a test mannequin. The response shows how effective the process goes, spots weaknesses and identifies opportunities for further training.

Testing the plan also presents an opportunity to challenge assumptions. For example, even if a helicopter is available, this type of evacuation is extremely complex. The pilot must be specially trained to navigate turbines and tricky wind and weather conditions, or darkness may make an air evacuation impossible.

The myth of first aid training

Companies may think that because they require every worker to complete first aid training, they have a group of “mini-paramedics.” The reality is that most are undertrained and equipped to deal with major traumas. First aiders are usually trained every two years, yet studies show that if skills are not used regularly, they start to fade rapidly and are significantly reduced after about nine months. With a first aid course validity of two years, a patient would be significantly worse off potentially being treated by a first aider in the second year of their run-out.

If a medic is not available when a major medical issue or trauma occurs, it’s incumbent on the first aider to give treatment from the point of the incident, during the transfer to a vessel and during transportation to shore, a process that could take hours. Unfortunately, in the midst of an emergency companies find that the first aiders don’t want to take on the liability, don’t believe it’s their “job,” or find they don’t know what to do because they took the course so long ago.

The surest way to guarantee proper medical treatment is available is to retain a professional staffing service that provides trained medical personnel for land-based, offshore and remote medical support. These organizations, like Remote Medical International, provide a complete range of medical services including medical and safety staff, topside support, case management and evacuation services. By providing all these services under one roof, there’s continuity of care from the incident to case resolution.

In addition, these teams have access to a plethora of news and information and can provide weekly briefs on new developments. This gives them the ability to anticipate what’s coming and put processes in place early to mitigate their impact on operations.

The best way a company can prepare is to arm itself with information and leverage the services of a medical staffing company that can provide monthly updates. Large energy companies employ these specialists full time. Smaller companies need access to up-to-date briefings on developing situations. Companies pay thousands of dollars for professional legal and HR firms; doing the same for a medial staffing company is not much different and can lead to strategic decisions being made by the company that could make it more competitive.

Improving care, minimizing cost

A comprehensive plan combined with the support of a professional medical staffing company can heighten care and lower costs due to medical and health emergencies.

The biggest cost comes in the ability to successfully deliver a worker to the hospital for care so they can return to full fitness and work as soon as possible. The response time for medical help to reach an offshore wind farm can be several hours, yet a medic, even if they are on the opposite side of the facility, can arrive well before outside support, meaning they can take over more quickly from first aiders.

While the medic can provide significant medical intervention to the patient, they will also have topside support the entire time they are treating the worker, enabling them to provide a high level of care. All of this is designed to give the patient the best possible chance of a full recovery. Not only does this reduce lost time from work, but it ensures workers get the best possible care. If that doesn’t happen, companies may have to pay for extended treatment and recovery or cover the cost of the worker and their family’s livelihood. And if government and state safety organizations find there were mistakes or the company was unprepared for such an incident, they may also face fines. These would be much greater than the cost of relying on the services of a professional medical staffing company.

Conclusion

Plan, test, practice, get support. Take the time to develop a comprehensive health and safety plan, anticipate the “what ifs,” test the plan and continually improve it. Seek out a medical services partner experienced in meeting the renewable energy industry’s unique challenges. Select an offshore medical services partner that offers a complete scope of services from planning to medical support and training, and that demonstrates a robust understanding of the dangerous conditions under which a crew operates.


Duncan Higham founded SSI Risk Management (SSI) in 2012 and SSI Energy in 2016 and successfully grew the SSI Group into a multi-million dollar business prior to its acquisition by Remote Medical International. He graduated from Cardiff University and Imperial College in Economics, joined the Royal Marines in 2002 and carried out several operation tours of Afghanistan and various other locations, leaving as a Major in 2012. He received emergency medical training in Cape Town, South Africa. In his current role as VP Global Strategy, Duncan is responsible for the direction of growth for Remote Medical International with a particular focus and expertise in Renewable Energy emergency response.


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