They are considered the most extreme workplaces right after space travel: oil platforms. Only astronauts are sitting on a comparable huge pile of explosives when a rocket is launched. While the rocket’s fuel is ignited intentionally and the astronauts are shot into space, the workers on an oil rig have precisely the opposite task:
Do not blow the rig up! So they prevent open fire and any uncontrolled sparks in their work, as discharging gas from a leak can immediately lead to a gigantic explosion. Fire protection is therefore a task that is just as important as the actual job of the predominantly male workers on the oil rig: the drilling for oil and natural gas.
“We are sitting on a huge bomb of gas with the explosive force of several tons of TNT, and then I let a light arc run through a man… Technically that acts like the fuse of a bomb… Imagine this feeling when you press the trigger of the defibrillator! “- John, paramedic on an oil rig
We visited an oil rig in the Northern Sea and met a good friend of ours: the corpuls3.
Going to work by helicopter
For workers on offshore platforms, transport in a helicopter is as natural as taking the bus or train for the ordinary commuter. Our helicopter of type Airbus H225 is equipped with an automatic approach and landing system called Rig’N Fly. A good feeling after the previous safety instructions, which do not take place like on a scheduled flight inside the cabin of a plane, but in advance by video still at the heliport of Den Helder in the north of the Netherlands. Also the check-in is not what we are used to: We know passport control and case weights. Now we have to put ourselves on the scales. The pilot must determine the exact starting weight of his machine, so every kilogram matters.
Like 63,000 other workers per year, we are on the way to the clothing issue at the terminal of Den Herder. Here we are dressed for the flight: Thermo suit and life jacket with breathing air reserve. “The North Sea is rough and cold,” the lady at the counter says with a big smile, as she recognizes that we are going on the trip for the first time. The queasy feeling is back.
Stranded, in the middle of the Northern Sea
The Flight takes about one hour. The weather is gracious with us and the gentle landing takes place on a platform which appears only slightly larger than the helicopter itself. Some of the men remain on board of the helicopter and fly to another one of the over one hundred oil rigs in the Northern Sea. For us it is now time for a stop at the paramedic. He gives us a safety briefing, again by video. There we learn that we are currently drilling into a gas bubble that is supposed to deliver three million cubic meters (3 million m3) of gas per day.
The Paramedic on board introduces us to his only constant colleague: It is a corpuls3! The gray-haired Irishman with a mustache is looking very relaxed, even when he tells us: “We are sitting on a huge bomb of gas with the explosive force of several tons of TNT, and then I let a light arc run through a man… Technically that acts like the fuse of a bomb… Imagine this feeling when you press the trigger of the defibrillator! ”
We don’t want to think about that at the moment and so we are guided by him to the quarters and the dining room. It smells wonderful. Jellena from Lithuania is the kitchen chef and the only woman on board of the rig. She cooks four hot dishes with her team every day and has a buffet which serves the workers 24/7. The men love meat and fish the most. Jellena’s task is to please the taste buds of almost a hundred different men from more than 20 countries.
“The mood here depends on many factors,” explains the 36-year-old. “Sometimes it does not work with drilling, wind and weather are exhausting, and after three weeks on board, the motivation drops a little, if something is not ok with the food …” says the kitchen chef and rolls her eyes.
Fear is not a constant companion
A rig runs around the clock, every day of the year. This creates a lot of routine, but in the trap of monotonous sequences, the risk of becoming unconcentrated grows. That is why each handle is monitored and secured several times. This task is usually run by the beginners. They are easily recognizable by their green helmets. The blue helmet, which shows that they have already done three or more terms on an oil platform, the rookies have to earn by welding, rusting and using anti-corrosive paint.
Although most work is carried out in secured areas, there are dangerous activities, including risks, very difficult to foresee. The critical moments are, above all, the take-offs and landings of the team helicopters or the installation and removal of supply ships.
We meet John the EMT again, who lets us take a look at the steel booms at the edge of the platform. “The salty air and waves of up to 30 meters in height stress our darling,” John explains, as the men on board call their oil platform “pretty”. John shows us a cantilever on its’ end a flame restrains. Gas is flared there, which emerges during drilling and can not be used. “Sometimes the lightning flashes there,” John says rather coolly. “But we have to go there, too, for regularly checking the installation,” continues the EMT, who is simply called Doc by the crew. With the corpuls3 in his hands, he is then in charge of the security when one of the workers carries out repairs there.
“I’ve never used it for a resuscitation, but a worker got an electric shock when he was checking the status of a position light. It was at night, of course, and it was raining. I wired him on the spot for some quick diagnostics and then I went back with him inside the cabin just carrying the monitor, the man took the patient’s unit himself. “John jokes, who is amused by our shocked eyes.
After only eight hours on board, we go back to the mainland. A real adventure for us, routine for the workers and probably one of the most extreme locations for our corpuls3.