What are the chances of two offshore workers being able to pass one another in a narrow corridor?
That's one of the questions that Robert Gordon University and Oil & Gas UK's size and shape study is trying to answer.
The study has taken a critical step forward. Robert Ledingham of Robert Gordon University and Moira Lamb of Oil & Gas UK spent a week offshore measuring the workforce last month. This is the first real look at how the offshore workforce has changed size and shape in more than 20 years. The study aims to inform the design of offshore infrastructure and equipment with the aim of improving ergonomic safety.
Robert said: "Examination of existing weight data shows a 19% increase between 1985 and 2009, when the mean weight had risen to 90.9kg. The questions remain - how much extra space is required by people who are nearly one fifth heavier than a generation ago, and how much extra space is required when wearing the survival suit and re-breather?"
This is the second time the size of offshore workers has been measured. In the mid-1980s, the Robert Gordon Institute of Technology measured the size and shape of 419 male offshore workers while they attended survival school.
Now, in conjunction with Oil & Gas UK, the Technology Strategy board and other stakeholders, Robert Gordon University is repeating the study with 600 workers across seven weight categories using portable 3D scanning technology to accurately quantify the current body size of offshore workers.
Robert added: "Because only the weight of offshore workers has been collected since the 1980s, the current survey is long overdue and could shed some important light on the amount of living and working space which is provided for offshore workers."
The massive undertaking measures individuals in three postures and two clothing options: form-fitting clothing (cycling shorts) and a survival suit and re-breather.
The study, which is still in its infancy, has already yielded some interesting finds, according to Robert.
He said: "Based on a sample of 44 university volunteers across a wide range of sizes, the scanners can map maximal and minimal dimensions to establish critical space clearance. For example, all can pass one another without touching in a one-meter wide corridor if they turn side-on. However, in a survival space just 80cm wide, while they can all pass one another in form-fitting clothing, when wearing the survival suit the probability of passing approaches zero.
"By having an accurate picture of workers' body size and shape, infrastructure 'pinch points' can be identified, and size-related risks for emergencies managed. University staff and students, despite being the same species as offshore workers, might not be typical of them, so we need to be cautious about any inference about size until the study's full findings are known."
The study's full findings are due to be published by the end of 2014.