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Ebola: A threat to the offshore industry?

Precise takes a closer look at the Ebola virus, its effect on the offshore industry and the precautions in place to protect workers.

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Oil workers returning from a country affected by the deadly Ebola virus have been advised to stay away from UK offshore installations for at least 21 days.

It is the latest move to curb the spread of the disease – the deadliest outbreak since it was discovered in 1976. It has claimed the lives of almost 5,000 people in five countries. The latest figures are due out tomorrow (Wednesday).

The advice for UK installations was produced following the appearance of infected patients outside West Africa. People have been treated in the UK, Spain, France, Germany, Norway and the US.

Trade body Oil & Gas UK, which issued the guidance, also urges workers who’ve been in any of the regions affected to seek medical attention if they begin to experience any of the symptoms associated with the virus. These include diarrhoea, fevers or headache.

Oil & Gas UK is keen to stress that the risk to the UK from the disease was ‘‘low’’ – all 160 people tested for it since June have been negative – but Dr Alix Thom, Employment and Skills Issues Manager, says to help with government screening programmes, companies should keep lists of staff who have worked in Ebola-affected countries.

There is potential for significant economic consequences as well. The World Bank published an assessment warning the disease could cost West Africa more than $32 bn over two years if not contained. Much of the damage would result from the higher cost of doing business as fears of Ebola leaves companies without workers. Considering Western oil companies account for an overwhelming share of oil production in West Africa, the impact of a decline in work could have serious fiscal consequences.

The fear factor impact on oil and gas exploration is prominent in a report from consultants GlobalData. Lead analyst John Sisa says “almost all oil workers are based in onshore stations… Oil workers who are local nationals and return to their onshore homes in dangerous, infected zones could bring the virus to the drillships and platforms when returning for duty.”

Oil companies have already begun to react. Exxon Mobil banned employees from traveling to areas most affected by the virus. The company says it’s disrupted its operation in West Africa, including future plans to drill off the shore of Liberia. Others – EnerMech and Tullow Oil – pulled out of Nigeria and Liberia, although offshore personnel remain in place. EnerMech HR Director Shirley Smith says “ ..if there is an increased risk to those working offshore, we have contingency plans in plans to withdraw them.”

There are anecdotal reports that expat staff are becoming reluctant to take on roles in the affected regions. It’s recommended that before accepting roles, workers find out what precautions companies are taking to safeguard them against the virus.

Precise Consultants is working with a number of companies such as Fugro Survey BV and Zupt who remain in West Africa. Positions such as Survey Engineers and Party Chiefs are available for freelancers, and we have information available to interested people on the safety measures in place within those companies for people working both onshore and off shore.