With men’s mental health regularly hitting the headlines, there is an increasing awareness of prevention and wellbeing. However, when you work in some of the North Sea’s most adverse conditions what can really be done to ensure mental health is a priority?
On the face of it, it may seem that the ‘average’ man in the UK has not experienced the same rate of change at work, as the average woman, but scratch a little deeper and we see rapid and, often, significant changes to men’s experience of work, with attendant implications for their health and wellbeing.
Extracts from The work foundation November 2018
Considerable research efforts are being devoted to understanding the physical and psychosocial environment of North Sea oil and gas installations, and the implications for job satisfaction and health.
A report commissioned by the Health and Safety Executive and prepared by University of Oxford titled ‘Psychosocial aspects of work and health in the North Sea oil and gas industry’ examines this in detail. Whilst the report does not draw explicit, causal links between work, environment and health, it tackles important issues for consideration including the effect of anxiety, the impact of shift work and the bearing such an environment has on an employee’s health risks.
The company’s network of clinics across the East of England deliver Occupational Health to workers in many fields, but their proximity to the region’s offshore hubs means her doctors have seen most of the North Sea workers going offshore at some point. After 6 years they have become specialists in supporting offshore workers, and Dr Lindsey Wright (MFOM) of Wrightway Health speaks candidly about the effects this environment can have on a person.
“A North Sea offshore rig is by no means a standard work environment, their typical day involves dangerous, high-pressure activity in a sometimes bleak and almost always male-dominated culture. This is compounded by shift patterns that are often a gruelling twelve hours of hard, physical labour involving night shift work, and of course working away from home.
This type of lifestyle can be a breeding ground for anxiety and effects on mood, with many workers suffering from exhaustion and guilt. This can be particularly hard when they feel they are unable to support loved ones at home with a problem.
Whilst drug and alcohol use are well controlled offshore, the nature of the two weeks on, two weeks off shift pattern can lead to episodes of binge drinking whilst onshore- and that can have a real impact on mental health in general.”
Whilst change is slow it is occurring. Increasing awareness of men’s mental health has seen sector specialist organisations such as Step Change in Safety team up with the Samaritans to offer valuable webinars for its members. These are designed to educate workers on how to monitor for signs of trouble in a worker’s mental health, and how to deal with episodes quickly.
Dr Wright suggests:
“The approach must move beyond the superficial tackling of symptoms and start looking at the embedded culture within the sector. For years, sub-contractor labour has led to a culture of presenteeism where being at work and earning has taken priority over wellbeing. An ability to mask feelings of anxiety and depression is developed that eventually reaches crisis point. After years of avoiding or supressing these feelings it becomes much harder to address the root cause.
I believe the key to change is the relationship with Occupational Health. It’s traditionally seen as a service that signs personnel off sick, when in fact, if engaged with properly, is a service that keeps a workforce happy, healthy and at work. Most Occupational Health doctors see offshore workers for their statutory medical or in times of crisis. But a more proactive approach for these workers involving Occupational Health services with understanding of the social, economic and environmental pressure these workers are under will be beneficial for both works and employers. A chance to talk regularly and develop an early intervention process that would see many avoid crisis.”