Oil and Fat
- Alex Barbey (Schlumberger)
- Document ID
- Society of Petroleum Engineers
- Journal of Petroleum Technology
- Publication Date
- November 2010
- Document Type
- Journal Paper
- 18 - 20
- 2010. Copyright is retained by the author. This document is distributed by SPE with the permission of the author. Contact the author for permission to use material from this document.
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In the oil and gas industry, the “S” is surely the biggest part of the “HSE” equation (health, safety, and the environment) in terms of liability and expense. But a lowercase “h” would better represent the lack of attention paid to health—yet “h” issues kill more people every year in the industry than the “S.”
Twenty years ago, when I started working for the industry, the people in this profession were perceived by the general public as young, dynamic, and healthy—traveling and working in remote places, and leading a glamorous, adventurous, Indiana Jones-type life.
However, the truth is sadly different. When medical professionals in this industry meet, although we are concerned that HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, malaria, and diarrheal diseases are a problem among our workforce, we are shocked that their effects are minor in comparison with the number-one killer—lifestyle-related diseases. Obesity, in particular, is responsible for the high number of deadly heart attacks among oilfield workers.
The bottom line is that more people from the oil patch are dying from heart attacks today than from vehicle or work-related accidents. In 10 years, if nothing changes, half our workforce will be overweight or obese and at greater risk for experiencing heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, high blood levels of artery-clogging cholesterol, respiratory problems, and an increase in certain cancers.
The Root Cause
In a world where 1 billion people are overweight or obese (defined by body mass index; see www.nhlbisupport.com/bmi) and where 20,000 people die each day from heart attacks, the oil and gas industry is faced with a workforce that is only getting older and fatter. A formal health-risk assessment is not required to understand the root cause of the problem. It is a simple case of too much food and not enough exercise!
The people in our industry, although well educated, show little understanding or motivation when told that they need to lose weight—until they have a heart attack themselves or learn of the brutal, unexpected death from cardiac arrest of someone close to them such as a family member, friend, or colleague. Many oil-field workers epitomize the “that’s life” or the “it won’t happen to me” mentality.
People just do not seem to take their health very seriously. They figure that life is too short to not enjoy fatty, high-calorie meals washed down with a few glasses of alcohol or soda. Modifying bad habits is always being put off until a few years from now. It is considered easier to take a medication to reduce blood sugar rather than to decrease consumption of extremely sweet carbonated soft drinks; another medication to reduce cholesterol levels rather than eat less butter, fries, fast food, and processed food; and a third medication to reduce blood pressure rather than lose a little weight by walking and moving more.
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