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Taller, heavier and wider….

Published:  29 April, 2015

The changing shape of North Sea offshore workers over the last three decades is revealed in the findings of a ground-breaking high-tech study just concluded in Aberdeen. ODEE reports.

Researchers at Robert Gordon University (RGU), based in Scotland, in collaboration with Oil & Gas UK found that male offshore oil and gas workers are now on average almost 19% heavier and two per cent taller than in the mid-1980s.

The average weight is now 90.5kg in minimal clothing and 91.7 kg in clothing without shoes. The average height is now 178.7 cm.

The circumferences of different body regions have risen substantially since 1985 when a previous study of North Sea workers was undertaken, more so in the heaviest 1% of the workforce.

Study findings will be invaluable to those designing offshore safety equipment, survival clothing and space and accommodation requirements offshore.

A total of 588 male offshore workers were selected across seven weight categories to match the known weight profile of the workforce.

Each underwent seven body scans using the latest portable 3D scanning technology. A total of 26 measures were extracted, including shoulder width, chest girth, neck girth, and a series of volumetric measurements of the arm, leg and torso.

Measuring the workers in different standing and sitting postures, and in form-fitting shorts as well as full survival suits - this was the most comprehensive study ever carried out.

The measurement data - soon to be available under licence - is especially valuable as it highlights the difference in dimensions between offshore workers and their onshore male counterparts.

The project was led by Dr Arthur Stewart, knowledge exchange co-ordinator at RGU’s Institute for Health and Wellbeing Research (IWHR), and Dr Graham Furnace, medical advisor for Oil & Gas UK. It was prompted by recognition that existing data was out of date, and that the workforce was heavier, but how that had impacted on their shape was unknown.

Senior figures from Oil & Gas UK – Robert Paterson, health, safety and employment issues director and Moira Lamb, senior business analyst – as well as the research associate Robert Ledingham (IWHR) and data modelling experts Professor Patrik Holt and Dr Eyad Elyan from RGU’s Institute for Innovation, Design and Sustainability Research (IDEAS) were also involved.

Dr Stewart said: “We now have a unique insight as to how the shape of offshore workers has altered profoundly since the 1980s. The scanning technology enables us to visualise the typical shape of a person of a given weight.

“Compared with that of a generation ago when many of the North Sea installations were constructed, the size of today’s workforce, together with the size increase imposed by different types of clothing, will enable space-related risk to be managed and future design for space provision optimised.

“In addition to the data on offshore workers, the study has generated an on-going capability for measuring the size and shape of the offshore workforce in the future.

“Despite challenging times for the oil and gas industry, this is good news for the offshore workforce and provides valuable information which will inform operational decisions and aspects of offshore installation and safety equipment design.”

Robert Paterson of Oil & Gas UK, said: “This has been a hugely beneficial collaboration between academia and industry. Data collected will inform all aspects of offshore ergonomics and health and safety, from informing seat design for use in helicopters and lifeboats, survival suit design and space availability in corridors and work environments offshore.

“Our research partnership has also been very timely because it has also helped inform the work being done in response to Civil Aviation Authority concerns about passenger size and helicopter emergency push-out window size.”

More than £150,000 in funding for the project was secured through a combination of a Technology Strategy Board Knowledge Transfer Partnership Grant as well as support from several Oil & Gas UK member companies.

Aberdeen company Survival One (Survitek Group) provided a full range of the very latest survival suits for use in the project.

Academic findings of the study have already been presented at an International Conference, and to the Scottish Parliament’s “Innovation with Impact” event in January 2015.

A programme of further research with the data for academia and industry will describe the shape the workforce is in, and anticipate the shape of things to come.

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