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Mindfulness exercises may boost awareness among offshore oil and gas workers

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Houston — Offshore oil and gas workers who regularly practice mindfulness may experience less fatigue and emotional and psychological strain – all while increasing their situational awareness and productivity, results of a recent study led by University of Houston researchers show.

Backed by funding from the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine’s Gulf Research Program, the researchers developed a mindfulness training program “that targets well-being and situation awareness through mindfulness practice to improve safety,” a video associated with the project says.

A survey of 108 offshore oil and gas workers used to shape the program asked respondents to discuss the specificity and risk of certain job tasks, as well as which duties feature the most challenges related to safety, distractions, near misses and incidents. Common sources of distraction included overcrowding and social distraction (41%) and phone calls during work (19%).

Additionally, 16% of the workers said they wrestle with performance anxiety, while 9% reported that their minds wander during repetitive tasks and task switching – perhaps as a result of distance and time away from family.

 

“Some of the findings surprised me,” lead study author Christiane Spitzmueller, an industrial and organizational psychology professor at UH, said in a press release. “While they were working, they were thinking about issues their families were facing back home without being able to do anything about it. That popped up more frequently than I would have anticipated.”

The mindfulness training program includes what the researchers call a “time to refocus toolkit” – a collection of brief mindfulness exercises intended to harness workers’ concentration. For example, workers preparing to begin a high-risk task found effective an activity that prompted them to stop for two minutes to observe five things each they could see, physically feel and carefully hear.

Although the researchers acknowledge that the positive effects of mindfulness take time to develop, they ultimately found the benefits of such exercises exist.

“Mindfulness training offers workers a chance to refocus and attend to the current moment, both of which have a real impact of safety in the offshore environment,” study co-author Kasia Curry, global well-being leader at oil industry company Baker Hughes, says in the video.

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