There have been a number of fatal helicopter crashes in the North Sea over the past few years, and the British Civil Aviation Authority conducted an investigation into how the numbers of deaths could be reduced. Its solution is simple. Just ban fat people. Unless they can crawl out a window.
Offshore oil rigs, and North Sea rigs in particular, are highly dependent on helicopters to get workers to and from the rig sites. That's a problem, because, as the old saying goes, helicopters don't fly, they beat the air into submission. So they are a bit crashy, relatively speaking.
And people tend to die in helicopter crashes, either because the chopper itself goes belly-up once it hits the waves, or because the occupants inside become trapped. The results of the CAA's review into those deaths has led to a major rule change, via the Financial Times:
The CAA said that from April 1 2015, operators would be prohibited from carrying passengers who were too big to squeeze through the helicopter's windows, which are pushed out during a crash to form emergency exits.
That's right. If you are too fat to crawl out a window, you are too fat to get into a helicopter. Nevermind those enormous whirling blades of death above you that can probably lift a solid 9,000 pounds, because you're probably too fat for those, too, fatty, according to the CAA. Only skinny people need apply.
And one union official is pissed, because the oil industry is full of fat guys, again, via the FT:
"There are a lot of big guys [in the industry] and ... this is going to prohibit a lot of [them] from going offshore," said Jake Molloy, regional organiser of the RMT union in Aberdeen. "It's the wrong approach."
Molloy does actually have a point here, all sarcasm aside. Oil drilling tends to be very strenuous, physical labor. It attracts bigger people who can manage that sort of thing.
So here we have a dilemma. An industry needs big people, but those same people are considered safety hazards in that industry.
Further rules about where passengers can sit, and how many can be carried, no matter their size, are also pissing off the industry, because it will not only leave some necessary staff onshore, when they need to be on a rig, but it'll also force more pricey helicopter trips back and forth.
The best solutions right now revolve around fitting rebreathers into choppers (which people need to be trained on, also expensive), and making the windows bigger on the helicopters themselves (also really expensive, if at all possible).
Or, the industry could just put everyone on a diet, and fire everyone else who doesn't measure up.
Yeah I'd say those first two things are more likely than the last one.
Photo credit: Patrick Giraud