A global COVID-19 response to help support the oil, gas and seismic industry

COVID-19 presented complex challenges to industries around the globe, forcing teams to quickly pivot and implement new safety regulations in order to help prevent potential outbreaks. 

For the oil, gas and seismic industry, this required an agile and unique response to rapidly alter guidelines and recommendations, in order to fit the needs of an off-shore environment — a measure that tested all teams involved.

Much of this support stemmed from the UnitedHealthcare Global Virtual Health Service physician team, based in the United Kingdom. Dr. Alex Rowe, an associate medical director who serves on the UnitedHealthcare Global Solutions team, said their main focus was in helping keep these offshore workers safe, reducing the impact of potential outbreaks and maintaining operations for an essential industry. He shares insights, challenges and lessons learned from navigating the COVID-19 pandemic in this landscape. 

What were the biggest challenges you initially faced?

If you imagine, we’ve not got access to the rapid testing, we’ve not got access to diagnosis or the medical care that’s needed for these patients. Imagine being a medic on an oil rig 50 or 60 miles offshore in rough weather. How do we deal with that group of patients? The other issue that arises from these groups of workers is that they’re often there working in quite confined spaces and living in quite confined spaces, as well. So when we’re trying to think about isolation and quarantine and trying to prevent outbreaks and spread of COVID-19, this presents additional challenges.

How has COVID-19 restrictions impacted these offshore workers?

As countries gradually locked down and travel became more and more restricted, it became really quite difficult to get people in and out of countries. And one of the massive impacts on these workers was the crew changes. Normally, crews will rotate over about four to eight weeks and then get exchanged with another crew. But because of all the lockdowns and the travel restrictions, we had maritime crew, we had offshore crews that were present for months and months, way beyond their normal working pattern. 

How would you approach future infection prevention and control procedures?

The actual things we need to do to prevent spread and to prevent outbreaks is good infection prevention and control. The majority of these pandemics have been airborne. So, the measures that we applied to that are pretty much the same for whichever airborne pathogen we may be looking at. So how do we translate that into the future? Should we continue higher levels of PPE when people are in enclosed or confined spaces or highly populated spaces? What does that look like for society? I think the big thing here is that we need to recognize that we might need to put measures in earlier if we suspect the pandemic in future. 

How did you see communication evolve during the pandemic?

The biggest thing that I think we've found is that collaboration and information sharing is everything. Organizations that have been competitors for years have come together. Governments have worked together developing vaccines. Collaboration, and shared information, is the heart of all this.