Total's North Sea employees complain of "stress and anxiety"

Maersk Oil's sale to Total has taken a big toll on the employees on the Dan F rig in the North Sea, where several staff voice concerns about stress and are looking for new jobs. In an internal document, an employee warned of deteriorating safety.
Photo: Claus Fisker/Ritzau Scanpix
Photo: Claus Fisker/Ritzau Scanpix

On March 2, 2018, French oil major Total popped the champagne and celebrated that the competition authorities approved the DKK 47 billion (USD 6.9 billion) acquisition of Maersk Oil.

The transaction meant that Total took over Maersk Oil's activities in the North Sea. As such, Total became responsible for managing the employees on the Dan F facility. But for the employees, the meeting with the French company has been something of a culture shock.

"Several [employees, -ed.] say they experience doubts about their own abilities and fears of making mistakes due to the many changes (...) as a mistake could lead to a dismissal, and that they are feeling stress due to not having the time to get their work done," says the summary from the Danish Working Environment Authority's report on the Dan F facility, to which ShippingWatch has gained access.

The inspection happened on Feb. 7, 2019 and is in itself noteworthy, as it only deals with the psychological working environment.

Of the most recent 51 offshore inspections the authority has conducted between Jan. 1, 2016 and September 2019, the inspection on Dan F is the only one that concerns psychological labor conditions.

Anne Bak Stokholm is responsible for offshore at Danish union 3F Transport in Esbjerg, Denmark, which represents scaffolders working on the Dan F facility.

She is not surprised by the report's conclusions.

"This is not news to us," says Stokholm, who describes a different management culture than under Maersk.

"There's been a change from the days of Maersk to now under Total," she says.

Looking for a new job

In relation to the authority's visit to the Dan F facility on Feb. 7, several employees told the authority that Total sets stern demands of "getting the work done" – while also telling the employees that they have the time available to handle the tasks.

As such, several people in the employee group have acted on this situation.

"Several say that they have started to look for work elsewhere," writes the Danish Working Environment Authority in the report from Feb. 7, 2019.

This is not the first time that the employees address issues related to the work.

In an internal document from a safety meeting on May 7, 2018, which ShippingWatch has also accessed, an employee warns in a written comment about decreasing safety due to major changes related to work processes and big changes in staff.

"Adding all these things together, they have now removed several safety barriers, and an accident is now dangerously close to being able to happen," writes the employee in the comment.

Photo: Skriftligt indlæg fra medarbejder på sikkerhedsudvalgsmøde hos Total 5. maj 2018
Photo: Skriftligt indlæg fra medarbejder på sikkerhedsudvalgsmøde hos Total 5. maj 2018

(The written comment from the report, in Danish)

According to the Danish Working Environment Authority's conclusion in the report, it cannot be determined that there are conditions that directly impact the employees safety and health on the facility.

And generally, the employees do say that they have the time needed to do their job in a responsible manner, according to the report.

Total tells ShippingWatch that the company estimates that there has been no negative development in terms of stress cases and the number of resignations in the Dan F field in recent years.

Management does not understand stress issue

Total says that the employees are themselves in part responsible for the working environment they have described to the Danish Working Environment Authority.

"Management informs that it does not entirely understand the issue of "stress" in relation to the facility's set KPIs [key performance indicators, .ed.] not being met due to, for instance, growing work pressure caused by, among other things, increasing administrative burdens, as the employees themselves help set the facility's KPIs," says Total in the authority's inspection report.

In the comment, Total also rejects the employees' claims that more personnel have left the Dan F facility after Total acquired it.

"Management does not share the view that employees are seeking away from the facility, but it acknowledges that there have been some challenges related to some long-term sick leaves and resignations that have occurred in the same period," writes Total.

Total tells ShippingWatch that "employee turnover for staff who have resigned" is less than 2 percent, though the company declines to disclose the exact number.

Total declines to be interviewed by ShippingWatch about the case, but the company writes in a comprehensive written response that:

"We are aware that clarity about processes and areas of responsibility are important to employee welfare, and we have in 2019 made a comprehensive organizational change aimed at changing the way we work, to make it more focused, simple and uniform," says asset manager Bernhard Reith, who is responsible for operation of Total's installations in the North Sea.

English Edit: Daniel Logan Berg-Munch

(This article was provided by our sister media, ShippingWatch)

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