Paramedics in the Offshore Oil and Gas Industry

Medical Doctor Viktor Varella, giving thumbs up, takes his last flight off of an offshore drilling rig in Brazil after resigning out of disgust with the Houston Company’s extremely arrogant, illiterate, and unprofessional safety manager.

For many paramedics that are burned out on the streets and tired of the low pay, the offshore oil and gas industry provides an alternative to being slammed with transfers and emergency runs nearly every working day of their lives. However, it is important that they go in to it with their eyes open because what they don’t know about the industry could be relevant in the decision process.

For the offshore oil and gas drilling and production industry, staffing the rigs and platforms with paramedics is becoming best practice standards that many companies are trying to achieve. Most offshore drilling companies are now staffing their drilling rigs with paramedics and production platforms have access to a paramedic either on the platform or on a close by platform. Some companies hire paramedics directly and others hire them as third party personnel on a rent-a-medic basis. There are advantages to both.

The author of this report began his offshore safety career after accepting an offshore paramedic position with Acadian Ambulance’s offshore division in 1997, now known as Safety Management Systems (SMS). SMS is probably the oldest and most established in the rent-a-medic category. The advantages that I found were that the pay is higher than what paramedics typically make with an ambulance service. Acadian offers a high degree of support for CEU”S and medical control. It offers the easiest route to gain experience in the offshore safety career field. SMS Medics have the ability to transfer within production platforms and drilling rigs both nationally and internationally. SMS’s onshore supervisors are experienced street medics and highly professional in the emergency medical services field. The latest medical equipment was provided to the rigs and emergency services capabilities on the rigs by paramedics were high with standing orders for advanced cardiac life support. Part time ambulance work is available on off days for paramedics at the overtime rate.

The disadvantage of working for SMS and other rent-a-medic companies is that they rent the medics out on a day rate basis and keep too large of a portion of the day rate for themselves. Pay is low compared to the average rig worker. Medics are hired because of their ability to handle routine and emergency medical situations but are generally considered the rig clerks with very little professional recognition. Third party personnel are considered “the hired help” and considered of a lower caste than direct hires.

Other companies such as Transocean and Diamond Offshore hire paramedics directly. The advantages are: the pay is higher than what can be earned on a rent-a-medic-basis and Paramedics are considered part of the company and not third party personnel.

In spite of the relatively high pay, there are considerable disadvantages to working directly for an offshore drilling company. With the exception of Transocean, paramedics are tasked with being the Health, Safety and Environmental, Personnel and Training representative on the rig. They have a dual reporting roll that often conflicts with both onshore safety and operations management. Paramedics are not managed by paramedical professionals and are constantly second guessed and interfered with on their medical decisions by managers obsessed with their concerns of losing their end-of-year safety bonuses. As I have previously explained in earlier reports, Paramedics are tasked with so many clerical and training responsibilities that it is impossible for them to devote adequate time to safety, health and environment, and will become the scapegoats for managers trying to cover up their culpability for injuries and deaths that occur on the drilling rigs.

Because of the deplorable working conditions and phony allegiance of corporate managers to safety, I have seen up to six medics at a time resign and when one of these medics sent out an e-mail giving his reasons for resigning and exposing the company for its hypocrisy, the company responded by fixing the rigs’ e-mail capabilities to where no one on the rig could send e-mail out to everyone in the Company again.

The medical equipment provided to direct-hire paramedics is substandard to that of paramedics working for professionally run paramedical service companies. Medical control is provided by company doctors who are being paid to look after the companies’ interests instead of ER physicians who have the employees’ best interest at heart. Paramedics do not have standing orders for advanced cardiac life support because companies’ safety managers are not ACLS certified and know so little about emergency medicine that they are more concerned with a lawsuit than they are in saving someone’s life.

Since the worst of the worst of these direct-hire companies is once again in the process of hiring paramedics for an international assignment it is important to warn all prospective offshore paramedic applicants to check out the reputation of the company before accepting employment. If the company knows no other way to manage its safety personnel other than through threats and intimidation and if there is a high turnover rate of rig medics then don’t just walk away but run away fast.

Because of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, there are tremendous changes in offshore safety right now. On November 15th 2011 all offshore operators will have to have a Safety and Environmental Management System (SEMS) in place to comply with new federal regulations. This could present immediate opportunities for new paramedics and could be a stepping stone to other safety positions with major operators like Shell or Exxon.

Probably the best place to go to see who is hiring offshore paramedics is at Click on the career center and then HSE. I know quite a few paramedics that think AMR is a horrible company to work for but it is hiring offshore medics right now and it could be a way to get your foot in the door to the offshore O&G industry.




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