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Occupational health risks offshore

The UK offshore industry employs more than 20,000 people, who are exposed to a range of occupational health risks. The consequences of ill health can be devastating for the individuals and their families - there is often a long-term impact on quality of life and financial security.

Occupational health is about protecting the physical and mental health of workers and ensuring their welfare in the workplace. This includes a wide range of activities, but the key priority is to prevent ill health arising out of conditions at work by identifying, assessing and controlling health risks. Other important aspects include:

Why does occupational health matter?

Many more people become ill as a result of their work than are killed or injured in industrial accidents. Most diseases caused by work do not kill, but they can involve years of pain and suffering for those affected. They include:

As well as the human cost, there are potential production costs from sickness absence, staff turnover and, in extreme cases, dealing with medical emergencies and compensation claims.

What does the law require?

The Health and Safety at Work etc Act 1974 (HSW) requires employers to ensure the health and safety of their employees and others who may be affected. Specific regulations on health hazards such as noise, chemicals and radiation have been made under the HSW Act. Most of these regulations apply offshore or set standards that help to comply with the broad duties under the HSW Act.

All offshore employers have a legal duty to protect workers' health. The main responsibility for controlling risks lies with those whose operations create them, so the owner or operator of an installation has responsibilities to everyone working on the installation. But contractors also have responsibilities for health risks to their employees or others arising from their activities. These responsibilities overlap, so the law requires dutyholders to co-operate with each other in ensuring health and safety. Employees also have duties not to endanger themselves or others.

Working in the offshore oil and gas industry can involve exposure to a wide range of hazardous substances, radiations, noise, vibration, extremes of heat and cold and ergonomic hazards. All have the potential to harm the health of workers, immediately or in later life. This website tells you how you can develop a comprehensive and systematic occupational health programme for your offshore operations. Ensuring such programmes are properly implemented and maintained by everyone offshore is essential to reducing the risk of ill health.

Information, instruction and training

Health related legislation places an emphasis on information, instruction and training. The aim of this is to ensure that employees are equipped with the relevant knowledge and skills to enable them to effectively carry out any duties they have been assigned, for example being a COSHH Assessor. Training on its own does not make people competent. Training must be consolidated so the person becomes knowledgeable, skilful and confident in carrying out the job they have been given. Training can take many forms from on-the-job training, classroom and practical exercises.

There are a range of occupational health courses which can be obtained from a number of course providers. One source of information is the British Occupational Hygiene Society (BOHS) website , which provides information on a variety of courses and qualifications, as well as the BOHS Course Approval Scheme.

Step Change hosted a joint HSE / industry seminar in March 2011 to launch offshore COSSH essentials. An important element in the control of exposure to substances hazardous to health is Local Exhaust Ventilation (LEV). A new course has been developed by HSE and BOHS covering the practical management of LEV. Further details can be found on the BOHS website.

Offshore Installations and Pipeline Works (First-Aid) Regulations 1989

Updated 2016-08-01