Offshore Platforms - Construction Crews
An oil or gas platform is always under the constant strain of nature, from raging storms to calm weather. The corrosive effect of the constant salt spray eventually takes its toll on even the most heavily protected oil rig. The production facilities piping and valves degrade a lot faster than they would on the mainland and the structural integrity is constantly being monitored for critical weaknesses. In addition a watchful owner of an oil / gas platform may consider it a wise investment to upgrade their platforms effectiveness. This could mean the oil production system, structure or accommodation requires new parts and modifications to be made.
In the 1970s and 1980s oil platforms tended to have offshore construction workers on board as part of the core crew entity. Unfortunately cost cutting measures and health and safety policies have meant almost all rigs only keep a select few construction crew members on board nowadays. However it has meant that when a new upgrade / replacement system of parts is needed the whole platform conducts what is known as a 'Shutdown.' Oil / Gas production ceases during this period, although pre-shutdown work may mean work is carried out on a 'live' platform. This is usually setting up areas with equipment and transporting new parts to where they'll be worked on during the shutdown. Whole armies of construction workers are called for during a shutdown and as many as 200 or more workers may be on a rig during this time. As the work is now project-based it can mean a steady flow of work during the peak seasons of late spring, summer to early winter. A typical shutdown on a platform may be as short as a week or as long as a month or more, consisting of several trips to the same oil rig.
Offshore platform construction crews are a pretty mixed bunch although in some parts of the world certain regions tend to specialize in working in the offshore industry. An example of this is in the North Sea where a majority tend to be from the north / north-east of England and Scotland.
The offshore construction crews are usually time-served tradesmen (five years or more) and to actually get work in the offshore sector you almost always need to know someone who is 'on the inside' so to speak. It can be a case of 'not what you know but who you know.' This term is often bandied about the platforms.
Construction folk are generally a rough and ready bunch and can tend to form a 'guild' of sorts when they all come together on an oil or gas platform. The platers, riggers, pipefitters and welders often have to work very closely together as jobs that need doing may require a degree of coordination to be successful. A perfect example of this is a large pipe (called a spool in offshore speak) that needs installing. It may well require scaffolders to erect scaffold, riggers to transport and lift it into position, pipefitters to install the spool and then welders to weld it in place. Afterwards an inspector (who may use rope access techniques) will inspect the weld for deficiencies.
It would be unfair to not mention the Deck Crew, although they are not usually contract workers (they tend to core crew) they are construction / support workers in principle. They are the crane operators, slinger / banksmen and helideck crews. These workers are essential to bringing aboard fresh supplies and materials essential to an offshore platforms continuing operation. The cooks and stewards who see to the nourishment and cleanliness on board are also vital to continuing operations on board a platform.