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article Shift workers on offshore platform

Easing isolation for those who work far from home


Quality of Life Observer

- Remote site

- Jan 20 2014

Working on an oil rig in the North Sea or a mine site in Western Australia often means long periods of separation from loved ones, friends and off-the-job interests. Companies in the energy and resources sectors seek solutions that mitigate effects of both the physical and psychological isolation their employees may experience.


Though stepping onto the platform in the middle of the sea is all about facing new challenges and experiencing an extraordinary environment, the unconventional work schedules of remote site employees – also known as “rotations” - require extended periods of absence from home that can put a strain on work/life balance. The prevalence of marital issues can be so high among offshore workers, for example, that researchers coined the term “intermittent husband syndrome” (1).

Today, companies increasingly focus on quality of life at work, resulting in reduced time offshore. “Rotations of two or three weeks on and two or three weeks off have become standard across 90% of the offshore environments,” says Lindsay Tocher, Chief Operating Officer of the Global Offshore and Marine business at Sodexo. While this change contributes to minimizing the effects on family life, many issues still need to be addressed.

Easing isolation

Being separated from family and friends for long periods of time can lead remote site workers to feel isolated and disconnected, which in turn can diminish their awareness of and attitude to risk on the job. According to Tocher, understanding and addressing these employees’ needs for consistency and continuity while at work is fundamental to reducing the complex impacts of isolation that often affect safe behaviors.

“We focus on connecting the home and the workplace,” he says, referring to Home Away, which is one part of Sodexo’s Well Track program, aimed at providing a comprehensive solution for isolated workers.

“Say you’re working offshore on the day of your wedding anniversary or a child’s birthday,” he explains. With Home Away, workers can send flowers and gifts so, in a way, are virtually present for important occasions.” Home Away also provides direct support for workers’ families. “Imagine that a natural disaster like flooding occurs while you are hundreds or thousands of miles away… Knowing that Home Away can ensure 24/7 emergency assistance can help alleviate the stress factor for both workers and their families.”

Managing Rotations

While it is important to focus on family needs while remote site loved ones are on rotation, the importance of accompanying workers’ return home also needs to be considered. According to a 2009 study published in the Oxford Journals, partners at home often find it difficult to juggle with on-again / off again presence and support for decisions, chores, child-rearing, etc. Furthermore, once they have established routines to manage in the partner’s absence, it is not uncommon for home partners to perceive their return home as a disruption or intrusion. On the other hand, some offshore workers return home exhausted and don’t participate in home life at all.

In other remote-site environments such as mining, access to Internet is now a standard offering. “With technology today, digital and social media allow workers to keep in touch with home while in remote locations across the globe,” says Johnpaul Dimech, CEO, Sodexo Australia “Technology eases the burden of being away from home and will continue to play a growing role in keeping people connected real time.”

Increasing productivity

Easing isolation issues is a top priority to help keep remote-site employees’ spirits high, which in turn has a positive impact on team dynamics, performance and productivity. “On all remote sites, we see that helping workers connect with their loved ones increases their engagement and productivity,” concludes Dimech. “Connecting work and home contributes to improving retention for employers and, most importantly, the overall safety, wellness and wellbeing of their employees. It really is a win-win for all.”

(1) First noted by researchers Morrice and Taylor in 1978, following an investigation conducted in Scotland’s Aberdeen area on wives of oil men working offshore.

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Easing isolation for those who work far from home

Working on an oil rig in the North Sea or a mine site in Western Australia often means long periods of separation from loved ones, friends and off-the-job interests. Companies in the energy and resources sectors seek solutions that mitigate effects of both the physical and psychological isolation their employees may experience.

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Comments

  • Mon
    03 Mar

    VB

    Thanks for that great article!

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