Adam Piggott

Gentleman adventurer

Are you a sheep or a master of your own destiny?

I train people who work and live on offshore oil and gas facilities. The safety standards are very high, and I would go so far as to say that offshore oil and gas and commercial aviation together have the highest safety standards in the world.

And yet, while training people to escape from a capsized helicopter underwater, or a smoke filled installation with no visibility, or from a gigantic fireball, I have over the years noticed certain behaviours common to 95% of the workforce. And I have at the same time identified the mindset of the other 5%. And I can say with no hesitation that in the event of a major accident event I expect the majority of the 95% to struggle at best.

The 95% I refer to as the sheep. The common attribute of a sheep is the avowed belief that bad things cannot happen to them. They are a unique and a special sunflower who is exempt from all calamities and problems. While they participate in the courses that I run they are often passive observers. They hear what is being said to them but they do not understand. Don’t get me wrong, they understand on a superficial level and they are provided with many examples of disasters occurring in the industry in which they work, but nonetheless they remain convinced of their special status in life.

Masters of their own Destiny are different. They not only know and appreciate that problems can happen, they expect it to happen to them. This does not mean that they run around in a constant state of anxiety convinced that they are about to be killed. What it means is that they participate in their training and then they find ways to actively apply it to their workplace.

Let me give you an example. A helicopter is most likely to have a mechanical malfunction when it is hovering as it is at this point that it is using maximum power. In other words, the take-off and landing phases on an oil rig is when a chopper can get into trouble. And this means that it falls into the water where it will usually capsize due to being rather top heavy. Our training improves the survivability rate in these accidents by a factor of four. And a crucial aspect of the training involves setting yourself up for success by undertaking some crucial checks just before take-off and landing. We drill these checks into our trainees as much as we can.
Every time I fly offshore the vast majority of the helicopter passengers are asleep or dozing as we come into land on the facility. They do not do their checks. They are of the mindset that it cannot happen to them. It is vital, when you are a sheep, to actively convince yourself that you are indeed special. Being asleep when a chopper is most likely to ditch is a good demonstration of this in action.

A sheep who finds himself in an emergency is depending on two things: they are hoping that they will be bump into a master of their own destiny who will guide them to safety, and they are trusting that the master will not themselves make a bad error in a high stress situation. In other words, a sheep has no personal power.

Another example is what people wear to bed on an offshore facility. I ask this question in class when the subject of muster drills comes up. The power-point states that if a muster alarm sounds when you are in your accommodation then you must:

Get dressed,
Grab your personal protective equipment,
And head for your muster point.

The majority of trainers state the above as bald fact, the trainees nod their heads that this is indeed a good idea, and the lesson proceeds to the next slide.

I however, consider it my solemn duty to try and wake up sheep.

The power-point comes up and I dutifully read it out. The class agrees, and then I throw them the curve ball question. What do you wear to bed when you’re offshore?

The vast majority of them answer that they wear some form of undergarments. Boxers, jocks, maybe even Fred Flintstone pyjamas. A few of the more disturbed ones admit to sleeping cowboy and I comment that I ain’t sharing a room with them which gets a laugh.
It’s good to get a laugh before the yelling begins. I get quite a few raised voices in my classes. Sheep are never happy when you burst their little bubbles. This is what I say to them.

If you’re wearing your underwear to bed on an offshore oil and gas platform then you’re counting on a major problem not happening to you. It’s 3am in the morning and you’re brutally woken up by a gas blow-out from a major loss of well containment. It sounds similar to an express train sitting on your head and you can barely hear the sound of the muster alarm above the screaming banshee wail. The blow-out has knocked out all power to the rig including the emergency power lighting. You cannot see your hand in front of your face. You fumble for the torch but you never bothered to check that there were batteries in it when you arrived. You try and locate your overalls to protect you from any fires but you can’t find them. Your panic levels are rising and so now you stumble out into the corridor and you try to work out which direction in the total darkness is the way to your muster point.

This scenario was described to me by an experienced offshore worker. It happened to him. When he finally got to the muster point, (which he only reached because a master of his own destiny lead him to it), they found the crew at the muster point in their underwear crying because they thought they were going to die.

I get a pretty negative reaction from people when I tell them this. ‘You want me to sleep in my overalls? Are you fucking insane?’
And then I bring up the subject of the Pipa Alpha oil rig disaster that killed 167 people in 90 minutes. With the benefit of hindsight, if you’d been sleeping on that rig when it went to shit, what would you have wanted to be wearing in bed? The answer from everyone, even somewhat reluctantly, is their overalls.

If you’re wearing your jocks then you’re counting on it not happening to you and thus you’re a sheep. The simple act of wearing a second pair of overalls to bed, (which get washed every day by the weird dudes in the laundry), in this instance separates the 5% from the sheep.
You can take this lesson and apply it to any situation in your life. Do you let your finances just bumble along in the bizarre hope that they’ll somehow sort themselves out? You can’t say no to your kids and you give them everything they want so they won’t yell at you but somehow you think that they’ll turn out okay?

My trainees leave the courses that I run with what appears to be some acquired wisdom. But I know that the majority will not remain awake and they will slip back into their sheep-like instincts. But for those who remain awake and who go on to examine other parts of their lives then it will have been worth it.

The vast majority of you who are reading this are sheep. And every single sheep will automatically assume that they are indeed a master of their own destiny.


Travel sans Camera.


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1 Comment

  1. I hadn’t read this one yet, and I really enjoyed it. However there comes a time when a nap might be the best thing going. Many years ago after a strange confluence of events, I was too dumb to realize volunteering could be a bad idea, I found myself as an NCO in an Airborne Infantry unit at the ripe old age of 22.

    Consequently I have jumped out of all manner of aircraft, which were built by the low bidder who probably bribed a politician. My men always asked me how I could sleep so peacefully on the way to the drop. My reply, “when you’re screwed you’re just along for the sport, you might as well be rested.”

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