Tales of Wood Group: MEAPTFMRGIT

MEAPTFMRGIT (My Experiences At Petrofac Training For My RGIT)
“It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.”
Charles Darwin

The brief respite in my fervent blogging this week has been due to my undertasking of what in the industry is commonly known as "the RGIT", or, the BOSIET course. For those who don't know, and for those that probably should but still don't, this is the survival training and rescue training that one has to do before they are allowed to head offshore into the North Sea for any length of time. It involves some survival techniques and general first aid, plus some details about life off shore and what the score is with being a few hundred miles from any land, in the harshest sea Britain has under her command.

Sea Survival
The first training I had to undertake was basic sea survival, where you are taught the basics of getting into a raft and swimming in a permantley buoyant lifejacket. The most entertaining moment was when we were shown the basics of a TEMPSC (Totally Enclosed Motor Powered Survival Craft) which is basically a life boat. We loaded on, were slowly lowered to the water, and then dragged across the water to disembark on the other side - the look of fear in some peoples eyes showed me how much fun the following days would turn out to be. Swimming with the lifejacket on was a blast - you can only swim back wards as the lifejacket is self righting, meaning you get blasted in the face every time you turn over. Moreover, the techniques for swimming caused some, not just the non swimmers, trouble. Turning requires you to paddle like a canoe - right to go left and left to go right, as you are heading backwards. This, coupled with the fear of imminent death by drowning, caused some of the party to quite worried.

Ah, you may be wondering what the HUET stands for - Helicopter Underwater Evacuation Trainer - so obvious once you have had a think about it. Basically, this is where you get dropped into a large pool whilst strapped in a helicopter and you have to escape. You are in a dry suit, you have a LAP Jacket (go on guess. Yes, a Lifejacket Airpocket Plus) which has a breathing tube like a scuba divers gear - but here is the twist. It is powered only by your own breath. Basically, it is a large bag that is empty. When you hit the water, you "Deploy Ebs" (EBS? Emergency Breathing System) which means you attach the nose pin and put the mouth piece in. Then you "Engage" and pull a pin out. Take a deep breath in and exhale into the bag. For the next breath you take it from the previous breath out, which has gone into the bag - you are breathing your exhaled air. This was the weirdest sensation I can remember feeling in a long time, as it tasted of food, was warmer with each passing, and slowly was getting less and less oxygen rich, obviously. A test we had to do was survive for 30 seconds with it in - the longest 30 seconds of my life. The strain it puts on lungs in incredible. Once you have the hang of the apparatus, you have to get into the helicopter and get plunged into a pool, 3 meters deep. Not very enticing I must say, but once you start doing it you get this rush of adrenaline afterwards, which slowly dissipates while you wait for your turn. There are 7 escapes, of varying difficulty:

1) Underwater, without breathing apparatus.
2) As above, with breathing apparatus.
3) Underwater, no breathing apparatus, with windows.
4) as above, with breathing apparatus

The next three are the grand finale, the show stopper, the climax. For the fist four the HUET was dropped. After "Stand By for Ditching!" and "Brace for Impact!" followed by "Brace, Brace, Brace!", straight into the water, and you had to wait 7 seconds before getting out. The idea is that 7 seconds is a good time to get used to the EBS, but shorter than the 30 second marathon previously mentioned. The final ones however have the HUET spun upside down, with you strapped in, and then you get out, upside down. Totally exhilarating, but scary to start with, it was one thing I think I will enjoy doing again.

5) Capsized, without EBS
6) Capsized with EBS
And Finally
7 Capsized, with EBS and Windows.

As you can see, it gets progressively more testing, in a fashion that would make the normal of us squirm with noted stomachs, but remember that you can go to this course as a non-swimmer. Imagine that! I found it pretty heart stopping, but a rush of excitement I enjoy - Rollercoasters and rock climbing are good examples of that. If I was left to my own devices, I would enjoy it a lot but watching these inexperienced swimmers struggle under the water was pretty harrowing. In Denmark you have no need to learn how to escape from the Helicopter and this means that some of the guys would be working with liabilities when it comes to escape - you don't want to be sitting next to someone who can't get out are you?

The final day was spent much drier, in a class room learning about Piper Alpha, an event which is still talked about in hushed tones and revered silence in circles, and basically is a bullet point to explain why it is all worth the preparation, and also why if you can help it, involve as little human contact with anything as you can. For those who don't know, Piper Alpha was a large Occidental Petroleum owned rig in the Piper field, which in 1988 exploded in one of the most devastating accidents since wartime, and the worst North Sea accident yet. 167 men lost their life, and it cost over £1.7 billion to the industry - which is a lot of money, even for an oil and gas company. To do work on a item, you now need a Permit to Work - a licence to show you are the only person working on it right now - this was in place at the time of Piper Alpha, but when the shift changed the new permit was not noted and new work started on a pump without consultation that the previous work had been completed - it had not.

Even more tragically, the procedure for fire fighting systems is they are automatic, unless divers are in the water. Then, they are one switch manual - on the night of Piper Alpha, they were one switch manual. The power pump B stops working - Pump A, the one where the work had been started, was commissioned and the pump started without the valve on it that should have been there. Oh dear. The pump expulsed gases, and the ignited (you do not need fire to ignite a gas. The PV = nRT formula sorts that one out. The right pressure and the wrong volume, it will auto flash, exploding. The systems were not designed to withstand an explosion, only an oil fire. When they abandoned the control room, no evacuation was announced, so over 100 men slept whilst the others tried to get off the rig.

The most interesting thing is Piper Alpha took oil on board from other rigs, Claymore and Tartan - they were not told of the fire and continue to pump oil onto the rig whilst it was on fire, meaning they were fuelling the fire.

After that, the two lines melted, sending 1.2 tonnes of gas per second into the fire - the whole consumption of the UK. This was the end. So, looking at it, it was a massive series of accidents and human errors. My fire training?

Getting out of a smoke filled room. Some how, I don't think a smoke filled room is going to appear if the fire is that fast. Do I still fancy going offshore?

"... a rush of excitement I enjoy - Rollercoasters and rock climbing are good examples of that…" Maybe.

This is my 60th post. What a victory for me.