Article

COVID-19 is taking a toll on upstream oil and gas sites. How can medical technology help?

It can be incredibly difficult to mitigate pandemic-related safety risks at upstream oil and gas sites. We spoke to VastMindz Co-Founder and CEO Nikhil Sehgal to find out how companies can better protect their staff.

22 April 2021

Contributors

contact-Jay Gujral

Jay Gujral

Account Director

It’s hardly hyperbole to say that COVID-19 has had a major impact on the energy sector. A recent article from Deloitte points out that travel restrictions and reduced industrial activity have driven down demand for crude oil at a time when the global supply is overabundant. Skill shortages, liquidity crises and increased diversification are all expected to occur in the short term, and companies will continue to feel the pandemic’s repercussions for years to come.

But while the industry’s economic health is troubling, its workers’ physical health and wellbeing remains a significant worry. In the UK, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has described worker health and safety as “paramount” during the pandemic and stressed that companies that don’t comply with Public Health England guidance could face enforcement and prohibition notices. That could prove problematic for offshore oil and gas facilities; as the law firm Pinsent Masons notes, the close-quarters nature of these facilities can make compliance with government guidelines particularly difficult. So what can companies do to address COVID-related health and safety concerns at upstream sites?

To find out, we spoke to Nikhil Sehgal, Co-Founder and CEO of VastMindz. The company specialises in AI-powered medical solutions, including a non-invasive screening tool that’s ideal for offshore installations. Sehgal filled us in on the safety challenges inherent to these sites, the ways in which the pandemic exacerbated them, and how the right technology can help medical officers and first-aiders mitigate significant health risks.

AXORA: Talk us through the health and safety concerns at the average upstream site before the pandemic. What were the primary pain points facing medical officers/first aiders?

Nikhil Sehgal: The high-stress environment of traditional sites requires robust health and safety management. Workers can suffer from fatal and non-fatal injuries; the latter type is of course more prevalent, but it comes as a significant cost burden to sites. Operators often term these types of injuries as ‘lost-time injuries’ (LTIs), and there’s a big push from the mining and metals and oil and gas sectors to reduce LTIs through employee wellness initiatives. These are concerns that have been facing the industry for years, and unfortunately the pandemic has added yet another health and safety concern. 

AX: Has the pandemic compounded any health and safety challenges that were already present at these sites?

NS: Absolutely. Traditional sites were already battling with health and safety challenges before the pandemic, and COVID-19 has added another layer of concern. Sites will now have to find solutions to cater to the ever-growing list of health and safety concerns so as to prevent any financial impact and maintain the wellness of an entire workforce.  

AX: You mentioned that sites will now have to cater to more health and safety concerns than ever. Can you name a few of those concerns and explain why they’re so important to prevent?

NS: One common health and safety concern at traditional sites is dust inhalation, which can lead to serious lung infection. However, catching this early is paramount and a specific method of catching this is to monitor a steady increase in someone's respiratory rate. With the VastMindz solution, key workers at traditional sites will have an easy and accessible way to monitor respiratory rates simply by looking at either a smartphone camera or any other type of mounted camera on site.

In addition to this health and safety concern, COVID-19 poses a number of other health and safety threats, including fatigue, which can lead to fatal accidents. Therefore, the ability to effectively monitor key workers' fatigue at traditional sites will be important for employee wellness initiatives. Using the VastMindz solution, central staff, including on-site medical officers, would be able to monitor potential signs of stress and fatigue remotely from one central location, allowing for the ability to take preventative action when necessary if specific workers are showing signs of either stress or fatigue.

AX: Why has COVID-19 had such a significant impact on these sites? 

NS: COVID-19 and other more traditional ailments are causing significant resourcing issues, both in terms of pre-travel checks and onsite wellness monitoring. Stress can itself be a cause of accidents and operational performance issues, as well as concerns over sick staff passing on viruses to others in such a confined space. Medium- or large-scale health issues can literally cripple the operations completely, costing potentially millions in lost production and impact on employee confidence in the operation.

AX: In this environment, why is medical screening so important for health and safety initiatives?

NS: Medical screening allows for the capture of objective physiological data over time. This is paramount as it allows medical officers to spot anomalies in an individual’s physiology which could lead to preventative action before that individual suffers a severe illness.

AX: What role does a solution like VastMindz in particular play in preventing COVID-19 transmission?

NS: It’s a well-known fact that individuals suffering from COVID-19 experience higher pulse rates, higher respiratory rates and lower oxygenation levels. These are some of the parameters that can be captured through the Vastmindz solution, which offers a comprehensive way of triaging individuals by looking at other biomarkers aside from temperature. Vastmindz’s solution is leading the way in non-invasive yet cost-effective diagnostics by combining smart computer vision, AI and smartphone technology to provide fast, accurate and simple diagnoses of health issues in staff, both pre-travel and onsite.

AX: How can VastMindz work in tandem with other prevention methods to reduce the spread of the virus?  

NS: As temperature screening may be prevalent at specific sites, Vastmindz’s solution can offer the ability to measure other biomarkers that could relate to the virus, thereby allowing for a more accurate triage system. 

AX: What is the best way for upstream sites to address the risks posed by the pandemic?   

NS: Given the sheer size of the workforce at upstream sites, ensuring accessibility to medical screening is paramount. This would allow medical officers at sites to analyse objective data at scale and take preventative action when necessary.

AX: How can remote medical screenings support medical officers and first aiders in their COVID-prevention efforts? 

NS: Vastmindz’s solution can support medical officers and first aiders by providing them with a remote method of monitoring the wellbeing of an entire workforce. Instead of using sensors to detect heart rates, our tool uses high-resolution video to detect pulse colour changes in the human skin. Through signal processing and computer vision techniques, we adjust the image to extract a photoplethysmography (PPG) waveform, which tells us the subject’s vitals. The whole process takes about 60 seconds, and it allows medical professionals to make necessary medical screenings available while maintaining distance.  

AX: Why are remote monitoring methods so important in this instance? 

​COVID-19 has forced us to adopt as many methods as possible that allow us to operate in a contactless way. Therefore, remote contactless monitoring allows us to capture valuable information about individuals whilst preventing the risk of virus transmission. 

Conclusion

The health and safety risks at upstream oil and gas sites were already substantial before the pandemic, and the transmission of COVID-19 has only exacerbated those concerns. In addition to impacting operations, the virus compounds worker stress, which can in turn pose further safety risks. By implementing the right technology, operators will be able to triage cases more effectively and protect their staff, allowing production to continue.

This article is a part of our Innovation Leaders in safety series. To view the report and further interviews and insights into safety solutions, visit our Innovation Leaders page here.  

22 April 2021

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