UH researchers create project for offshore worker safety
A UH group of academic researchers are testing whether mindfulness training can improve safety for offshore energy workers, a field that can have dangerous physical risks.
Christiane Spitzmueller and her team of other UH professors started the project last December. The mindfulness training consists of having workers focus on something specific, such as breathing for 60 seconds and aims to help them be present in the moment.
“There are still way too many people who are injured or killed on the job every single day,” Spitzmueller said. “In our work, we try to better understand the psychology behind workplace safety.”
Offshore workers are required to operate massive equipment, which creates it more hazardous than the average office environment, Spitzmueller said.
The project aims to improve the health and well-being of offshore workers, and the team expects those strategies to continue to improve safety outcomes.
“Healthy people are more likely to be alert, more likely to be able to intervene proactively when something goes wrong and hence more likely to go home safely at the ends of their shifts, without injuries,” Spitzmueller said.
The research for the project started five years ago, and the team partnered with Baker Hughes oil field service, Diamond Offshore Drilling and Robert Gordon University in Aberdeen.
Working offshore is very different than working on solid ground, said team researcher Peggy Lindner, assistant professor in the College of Technology.
“Workers are doing their jobs on platforms or vessels and are surrounded by water and, very often, open to the elements,” said Lindner. “In addition, oil and gas rigs have a high risk of spills, fire and explosions that can lead to worker injuries and fatalities.”
Lindner’s research focus is on emerging patterns through data in areas where qualitative and quantitative data sources come together.
“The patterns can inform policy decisions or measure the impact of interventions,” said Lindner.
The project’s plan is to create offshore-compatible mindfulness exercises that will enhance employee situational awareness. Mindfulness can help reduce employee burnout, increase safety outcomes and enhance worker well-being, Lindner said.
“The translation of well-established mindfulness exercises to appeal to offshore workers will demonstrate how mindfulness exercises can be altered to function as theory-grounded, cost-effective tools,” Lindner said.
The research is funded for up to two years by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine and is focused around the Gulf of Mexico.
“We hope to continue this stream of research after that, hoping to contribute to the industry’s ultimate goals of getting closer to the point where no workers are injured or killed on the job,” Spitzmueller said.