THE biggest study of the weight, size and shape of the offshore workforce will help revolutionise safety in the North Sea.
In 1985, when the last survey of the size and shape of 400 oilmen was carried out, researchers had to rely on calipers and tape measures.
But the new study is using strobe lights to produce detailed three-dimensional images of 600 workers for the first time, in a pioneering project that could pave the way for fundamental changes in the design of everything from crew-change helicopters, offshore lifeboats and survival suits, to the blueprints for the next generation of North Sea platforms.
Other areas for redesign could include beds, platform corridors and the internal seating arrangements on helicopters.
Robert Paterson, Oil and Gas UK’s health and safety director, said the research had the potential to save lives in the industry.
The offshore industry would have to adapt to a workforce which, like the population at large, has on average got two centimetres taller over the past 30 years and increased in weight by almost 20 per cent.
Mr Paterson said: “This research will provide the offshore industry and supply chain with an invaluable insight into how body shape, size and volume has increased since 1985.
“The information gained will help us to understand how these changes impact a range of safety issues and inform what may need to be done to address these.”
He added: “We have to recognise there is another 30 to 40 years’ life in the North Sea and new installations will be built and installed. So this is an opportunity for us to get some factual information about the size and shape of today’s offshore workforce and build those into the new designs.
“If we can improve the designs of survival suits and so on, then that will help take us closer to minimising the risks andpotentially save live.”
Dr Graham Furnace, medical adviser to Oil & Gas UK, said: “Size does matter, I’m afraid.”
He said it was already known that the average weight of an offshore worker in 1985 was 76kg and in 2010 was 90kg.
Dr Furnace said: “Just about everything in the offshore industry – from the seating allowance for helicopters and platform lifeboats to the size and fit of survival suits – is designed on the population sizes of 30-odd years ago.”
Dr Arthur Stewart, the deputy director of Robert Gordon University’s Centre for Obesity Research and Epidemiology, has adapted computer technology developed to scan museum artefacts to come up with a small software-based portable system, which will scan North Sea workers at offshore survival centres.
Light scanners produce parallel shafts of light, which allow a detailed 3D image to be built up in less than 90 seconds on the computer screen.