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24th Nov, 2019  |  General News

International Men's Day Series - John Kent's Story

Over the past decade, the Energy industry has taken great strides in improving the physical safety of personnel in our sector.  Making the risks clear, measuring key indicators, building awareness, challenging convention and common practice have all been critical to changing our individual and collective behaviours.  While we cannot afford to rest on our laurels, it is fair to say that our work environment is now admirably safer and people truly understand the need to continue to build on this. However, what about risks that have a tradition of being taboo subjects?  Risks that are less measurable, risks that manifest in difficult, volatile and at times in unknown ways. How do we look to address these? Mental health is a category of risk which does not slot into any of our traditional boxes nor measurement mechanisms.  It is profound.  It is unpredictable.  It is a disruptive current that flows beneath otherwise tranquil waters, unassuming, eroding, silent, potentially devastating.  One in five of us will experience it directly during our lifetime and it will certainly affect us all, be it directly or indirectly. My brother Michael has suffered from schizophrenia for much of his life.  It is a mental illness which is more understood than most, yet it remains unpredictable, challenging and heart wrenching.  Michael was diagnosed at a relatively early age and his personal response has been tenacious and resilient.  Mental illness is a difficult path to navigate even when correctly diagnosed.  What of the people who are not? We all work in an industry where extensive time away from home and long rotations are the norm.  With this comes the increased likelihood of psychological distress and mental health risks.  Men are particularly prone and are less likely to flag it when it arises.  We don’t like to talk about it and don’t believe that it could be me.  The truth is that it can be any of us. "Are You Alright Mate?" is a simple question tailored to encouraging men and women to be more aware, individually and collectively, of our mental health.  For International Men’s Day, stop and ask the question to yourself, your colleague, your friend or family member.  You never know what you could find. It may be reassuring. It may be concerning. It might just be life changing.

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TAGS: #InternationalMensDay  #IMD19  #inspirationalhumans  #Mentalresilience  

22nd Nov, 2019  |  General News

International Men's Day Series - Paul McElhone's Story

During a recent conversation about men’s mental health, I was asked whether it takes a certain type of person to be able to handle working in far flung and isolated assignments in the oil and gas industry. The question was framed in a complimentary manner, suggesting that those who handle working under such conditions are somehow made of tougher stuff than those who do not. The reality of course, is quite different. The workforce in such locations are the same as those in any sector or location – normal people; mostly working out of necessity, carrying with them much of the same thoughts, anxieties and hopes as any other person. Thankfully, in my experience, the vast majority of people are inherently good. When a team is faced with a collective challenge in an isolated environment, a sense of comradery forms and individuals tend to naturally look out for one another. In my opinion, this soft human approach is the basis for success in any team and any location. However, this soft approach is very difficult to document or plan, and unfortunately cannot be solely leaned upon to ensure everyone stays well, all the time. The perception of someone’s mental wellbeing, as is well understood in this day and age, can unfortunately be misleading. Unlike previous generations, we are all at least aware of the concept of mental health nowadays. We all most likely know someone who has experienced it, may have felt affected by varying degrees of it at times and can appreciate the debilitating impact that it can have on a person, relationship or family. As a project team in a very remote location, we have multiple systematic and technical tools at our disposal to try to mitigate the risk of someone executing a potentially hazardous task in this frame of mind. We have annual medicals to assess wellbeing. During the course of the year we cover a wide range of topics through weekly presentations and daily briefings related to the environment, safety and health. We include subjects such as mental health and mindfulness. We organize campaigns to raise awareness. We talk of the buddy-system. We have checklists and prompts in our last minute risk assessments at site to judge each other’s frame of mind prior to starting a given task. All very technical approaches. But probably not entirely effective. The truth is, as the majority of the workforce here are men, we all tend to be more comfortable not delving too deeply into this topic, and are content with finishing the conversation and just getting on with the days’ work. Perhaps this is something that needs to be remedied. Perhaps not. Of the enormous volume of information available on this subject online, one quote that stands out is Shelly Gray’s claiming that ‘Idle hands make fretful minds’. One thing that is certainly different about remote working life is that you are kept busy. A lot of rotational colleagues of mine, past and present, have admitted to the time away from ‘normal life’ being somewhat therapeutic and beneficial in itself. They are kept busy daily with tasks and are almost always surrounded by their team mates. Of course I’m not suggesting that avoiding problems at home is healthy, or that hard work is the only solution to what is a very complex emotional state. But maybe seeking out a purpose, and leveraging the resilience gained from working through adversity needs to be better recognized as an important part of the mindfulness discussion. Based on personal experiences with those who suffer with mental health challenges, it is the balance of listening, acknowledging purpose and giving someone the right amount of space that has the potential to help most. Making the time, and being brave enough to start these discussions with those suspected of suffering is the real challenge, whether it be at home or at work. Regardless of how mainstream the topic of mental health has become, genuine help is most likely to be found in personal, low-key moments – not in technically managed solutions or corporate communications. Caring, and making a personal effort to help someone who needs it will probably always be the most effective way to tackle men and women’s mental health challenges. And so to answer the question – does it take a certain type of special person to work on tough assignments: No. It doesn’t. But the experiences and effort expended teach you a lot about yourself and your strengths. Perhaps this is what prompts industry leaders to speak of resilience in such lofty terms. Perhaps we need to convert the determination that we apply in our work lives into a form of resilience in areas of our lives that are not so purposeful. Or perhaps we just need to better use the soft approach, and look a little closer for someone who looks like they need a chat.

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TAGS: #InternationalMensDay  #IMD19  #inspirationalhumans  #Mentalresilience  

21st Nov, 2019  |  General News

International Men's Day Series - Mike Landsey's Story

I grew up in Carletonville, a small mining town in South Africa.  As I moved through adolescence, I had a strong sense that I didn’t want to spend my life with blinkers on, I wanted to see and experience the world.  With the unflinching support of my parents I set off on a career in oil and gas that would take me around the world. A few years into my career, I met a beautiful South African lady who would soon become my wife and we had 3 sons.  In the early years of their lives they would travel with me but as they reached school age that quickly became unsustainable.  So, we were at the mercy of the usual lifestyle where my wife and sons would be at home and I worked the tough rotations.  I would call home every night but being away from my family wasn’t easy. I was posted out to a job in Mozambique at the time and the challenges of the lifestyle were taking their toll on the marriage.  We eventually separated and divorced.  The boys lived with their mother and I had visitation every other weekend.  During the times I was at work, my parents would have the boys for the weekend. And through all this I still called and spoke to my boys at the same time every night. My ex-wife remarried and her new husband introduced her to people from the wrong side of the tracks. I was working for Kentech in Sakhalin at the time when I got a phone call from my parents.  They were nervous about leaving the boys with their mother due to the people she was associating with at her home. They saw it was unsafe for them and so I was on the next flight home, collected my kids and took them away. Through amicable negotiations with my ex-wife it was agreed that I would take custody of the boys while she focused on getting her life back on track.  So, I bought a home in Johannesburg and hired Judy, a loyal and dedicated au pair to look after the boys while I was away on rotation.  And for the times I couldn’t be at home, I would video call them every night. Life was settled and happy and we fell into an easy routine.  Then Judy got stomach cancer and could no longer take care of the boys.  My mother and father sold their home and came to live with us so they could look after the boys whilst I was away on rotation.  It took a few years for my ex-wife to clean up her act and get her life back on track but once she had a stable life again we spoke about the boys going back to live with her.  She was living in Durban at the time and we asked the boys what they wanted to do.  They were settled, my two youngest had just started high school and they didn’t want to uproot to another city.  So they stayed in my home and went to stay with their mum during the school holidays. My ex-wife passed from a brain hemorrhage in 2016 and the following year my father passed. My boys haven’t had the easiest start in life.  My work has kept me away from them for long periods of time, which has been tough but it’s what we know and we found our rhythm. Despite all of this I have a really close relationship with each of my sons, when we’re together we spend a lot of time bonding through our love of biking. They are safe and happy and have now grown into exceptional young men. Two of them are in happy relationships with my middle son still looking. My youngest two sons are finishing their education and the eldest has graduated with a degree in architecture.  When I’m home, now there is just me, my mum and the two youngest boys at home but our house comes alive at the weekends with our whole community of friends and family. And when I’m not home? Well, I still insist on trying to have that call with them every night, but as they are now 19, 20, and 27, they keep telling me to stop checking up on them, but it’s my anchor and I’m not giving it up that easily. Family is everything.

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TAGS: #InternationalMensDay  #IMD19  #Mentalresilience  #Strengthinadversity  #inspirationalhumans  

20th Nov, 2019  |  General News

International Men's Day Series - Jason Miao's Story

Growing up in China in the 1980’s, I was part of the generation that was born under the one child policy.  The general upshot of this generation was that every family wanted their child to be the best.  Expectations were high, we were pushed to work hard and aim for the sky.  My family was no different and being the only child in the family, I quickly came to realise that my parents depended on me.  I wanted to work extra hard so I could achieve not only for myself but to provide a decent life for them too.  During the 16 years I lived in China, I learned that when the stakes are high, you fall behind quickly if you don’t try your best every day to move forward.  “Aim high, be better than last time, and keep trying” was my internal mantra, and still is. At 16 I set out to forge my own path and moved to Canada with a scholarship offered by an international high school program.  Living away from family, continuing my education as an international student without the ability to speak English was very challenging.  It was 3 years before I could comfortably speak the language and probably 7 years before I could joke and have banter in English that allowed me to form real friendships. I became a student of the university of life and what I discovered during my early years in Canada, was that you didn’t have to be the best at everything.  Everybody is different, people have strengths and weaknesses and we’re all allowed to find what we’re good at and what we’re passionate about and build on that. When people hear the challenges I was facing at such a young age, a lot of people ask me how I did it. “Focus, be positive, and remember your purpose in life” is what I always tell them. I’m not going to lie, I’ve not taken the easy route and it has been a struggle.  There have been times in my life when I have felt lonely, and still do sometimes.  I’ve felt frustrated during struggles to get my voice heard whether that be through language barriers or cultural differences. All those feelings are normal, and it is OK to feel them sometimes. However, through my experiences I’ve also learned that no matter what our race, sexuality, background or culture, we’re all human and ultimately we all want the same thing – to take care of the ones we love. This is my core, unflinching belief and it’s what allows me to relate to and have an ease with whoever I meet.  And I would equally love to spread that message to other people through their interactions with me.  I’ve learned that just being a good human, treating others how you would like to be treated, and even showing your own vulnerabilities, gives you a sense of calm.  The more open you can be with people, the more they mirror that back to you.  “Be comfortable with being uncomfortable” has been a motto of mine to keep me going during the tough times and keeps me challenging myself to step outside of my comfort zone. Every human, I don’t care who they are, has vulnerabilities.  And it is OK to say no or ask for help if you feel like you can’t deal with something.  A lot of people, and men in particular, can often feel the burden of being surrounded by people who rely on them.  In my case, as the only child in the family, I feel I need to tough it out.  I’ve got to be strong and together no matter what, whether I feel like that on the inside or not.  But there is more damage that can be done by taking this approach, both to our own psyche and wellbeing and to those around us who we think we are trying to protect.  So I guess, for international men’s day, I would like to remind people that it is OK to be NOT OK. Showing vulnerabilities shows your strength of character, not weakness, no matter what gender, race, sexuality, background or culture we are. The rest of my story is still yet to happen.  I’m back in my home country, growing Kentech’s operations here.  I’m shifting back into a different culture and meeting new people. My life lessons continue as I hope they always will, but I know that staying true to my core beliefs will make this next stage of my life a success.

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TAGS: #InternationalMensDay  #IMD19  #Mentalresilience  

19th Nov, 2019  |  General News

International Men's Day Series - Mike Scotland's Story

I was a semi professional footballer, on Sky Sports doing football tricks at the age of 13. I was the sports captain, well respected by my peers and the one charged with keeping whole team together, confident and focused, even during the tough matches. I was a fitness freak who had to run faster, longer and lift heavier weights than everyone else. On the outside I had everything together.  I was the larger than life, fitness expert, burly offshore oil worker, and it was absolutely exhausting. What people didn’t see was that it all felt like an act.  My reasons for needing to be the best did not come from a healthy place and it wasn’t sustainable.  It was a year after my son was born.  I was working offshore on a 3 and 3 rotation and felt like I was struggling to fit into my role as dad and fiancé at home.  I was struggling to get my voice heard at work, my internal anxiety was at an all time high and I broke. It was as much as a shock to me as it was to everyone else and I had to face the truth that I wasn’t OK.  I went to my GP, was given the opportunity to open up, talk about my struggles and was helped to understand what was happening.  I was experiencing deep-rooted depression and anxiety that I’d pushed below the surface for years.  The moment I recognized that and understood it, man, a weight was lifted, and I felt free…and happy for the first time in a long time. One month ago, I launched a private Facebook group called ManUP SpeakUP.  It is a community for people in the industry to get support and advice with their struggles.  The aim of this group is to help battle the stigma surrounding mental health in the offshore and oil and gas industry and to support others through sharing our experiences. Within the space of just one short month we have gained over 400 members, all opening up in a safe space with like-minded men and women from across the industry.  I personally receive 40-50 messages a day from people reaching out for support and I make it my personal mission to respond to each of these people with a message or a phone call.  I can start the day speaking to the mum of a worker struggling in Malta and end the day speaking to the CEO of a major company in Houston, and I love it. The response has been overwhelming, all this time we’ve been stigmatizing people about opening up, when all along so many people were internally crying out for it. I guess my message would be that if you feel like you are struggling to cope with the every day stresses of your life, seeking the help and support of others doesn’t make you weak.  You can relax in the comfort of knowing you are not alone and in simply freeing yourself of the burden by sharing your issues could make the difference for you.  It might just give you the mental strength and resilience to not feel so overwhelmed tomorrow morning, and the day after. I want to help as many people as I can simply by listening and if I can’t offer the support they need, I have a team of mental health professionals ready who can.  My vision for the future, is for this group to become a registered charity, for our numbers to continue to grow and to be able to educate a further team of mental health professionals who can go on and continue to help more and more people going forward.  This is just the beginning. For anyone within the industry who would like to join the group, please visit Facebook Group manUP speakUP, join the conversation and spread the support and positivity.

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TAGS: #manupspeakup  #IMD19  #InternationalMensDay  #Mentalresilience