As a Fire and Gas Safety Systems Engineer, Jabir Hassanali, who was born in Uganda and later settled in Nottingham, UK, travels to offshore oil platforms to install and commission the systems he has designed and tested. These systems monitor and protect offshore platforms from dangers such as: high level pressures in pipes, unsafe temperatures, fires, smoke and gas.

He started in the industry when he was 18 years old. Ever since he was a junior engineer, Jabir found that technology evolves daily and new industry standards are constantly being introduced, so learning never stops. He opted to pursue his career of choice through an apprenticeship programme whereby Servelec, the company he has been with for 30 years, sponsored his studies while giving him the opportunity to work and gain real world experience. Jabir’s career has afforded him lots of opportunities to travel. He has worked in Africa, Europe, America, Canada, The Middle East and the North Sea.

Q: What do you value most about working offshore?

What I value most about working offshore is the people and how everyone, from the cook to the plant operator, comes together to work as a team. Each individual works to make sure that we all stay safe whilst working on the platform like one big family.

Q: How does the work start upon arrival?

Upon arrival, I am briefed by the OIM (Operational, Installation Manager) on the schedules of work as well any past incidents etc. After this, I am given a key to my locker and the cabin number which I will be sleeping in. Normally, I would be sharing with someone, or if I’m lucky the second person is on night shift and I’ll have the cabin to myself whilst the other person is on their 12-hour shift.

If I’m on the day-shift, I go straight to my shift after arriving, so it’s important to be well-rested when I arrive offshore. If I’m on the night shift, I can get a couple hours of sleep before starting work. Fatigue management is a critical factor when working offshore.

Q: What is a typical day like?

A normal day consists of a 12-hour shift. Most people on shift put on orange overalls and have identical working, resting and dining routines.

My own working day is more flexible as I am not part of the core crew. My day typically begins at 5.15 am. We have a pre-shift meeting with the management team, followed by a morning toolbox meeting for all other employees before work for the day begins. We also have a daily permit meeting where the day shift is assessed and planned. Once I’ve had dinner, I go back to my office to plan the next day’s schedule. I will also meet with the night shift team to address any issues and make sure the plans are well understood by all those concerned before calling it a day.

Most of the time, I am the sole representative of my company. I’m therefore responsible for managing the maintenance and testing of the protection systems. My role is to ensure the safe operation of the facilities protection systems, to provide overall leadership, direction, and control of any changes and maintenance.

Q: How do you manage to do your job and preserve your faith at the same time? Have there been instances where you had to choose between your job and your religion?

On arrival, the first thing on my to-do list after the OIM brief and once my cabin has been allocated is to ask the Shift Engineer where an appropriate place would be for me to pray namaaz. If the platform is new to me, I would initially require guidance to the qibla. I’m very thankful that I’ve never had an issue and everyone has respected me for my beliefs.

As part of health and safety, long beards are not allowed to be left down. Most of the crew don’t really know how long my beard actually is. There was one funny instance, where the person I was sharing with came into the room after his night shift had started and saw me with my beard down after I had just taken a shower. He was a little shocked and joked ‘where have you been hiding all that!’

While working in Chad, there was a safety briefing for everyone before bringing hydrocarbons onto the site. As a precaution, everyone was advised to shave off any facial hair because an accidental release of toxic gas in the working area would require everyone to put on their oxygen masks which would not be that effective placed over a beard. I told my lead that I would not be able to do this due to religious reasons. He was very supportive and said ‘let’s see what happens.’

A few days later I was called into the plant manager’s office to explain why I hadn’t shaved my beard and moustache as per the safety brief. I explained to them why and they said that I wouldn’t be allowed to stay on site and the company would need to replace me. My lead explained that no one else was willing to travel to Chad due to the UK government’s advisory against travel there. I was the only person who had volunteered. So, after some discussions, I was allowed to stay but only after signing a waiver saying that I was to bear any liability.

Q: Tell us something about the dining experience?

There are generally good catering and accommodation staff that keep everything running smoothly. They do all the meal prep, cooking and cleaning of the kitchens and cafeteria, as well as the laundry and room cleaning during shift changes. Halal food is not available so my staple diet is generally baked potatoes, salad and fruits.

Q: What do you do to unwind – do you have any free time?

There are generally very good gym facilities offshore, as well as a cinema, a pool table, table tennis, etc. Satellite TV is also available in the rooms and recreational areas. When I first began working offshore, everybody used to go to the rec room to socialise, but now with the availability of Wi-Fi, people can much more freely contact their families and loved ones, or go to their rooms and watch a movie, so I find there’s not as much social interaction as there used to be.

Q: What is the culture like?

Creating a one team culture is critical when working offshore. When new people arrive, everyone goes to great lengths to make them comfortable and welcome. A lot of time is spent explaining basic safety expectations and ensuring expectations are met. Every action a person takes can have an impact on another person, group or the entire operation, so it is reiterated all the time. Most importantly, platforms promote respect for each other and an inclusive working culture.

Q: What special training do you need to work offshore?

There are many different roles required offshore to ensure safe and efficient operations. Everyone is required to successfully complete a HUET course (Helicopter Underwater Escape Training) before being allowed offshore. Before the HUET course, you would be required to provide a health certificate which says you are physically able to do the course and there are no underlying health issues which could affect you during the HUET training. A hearing test, blood pressure measurement, weight check, etc are administered before training can begin.

Weekly emergency drills are a minimum requirement. These may consist of – ‘fire in the galley (restaurant)’ and ‘man overboard’ for practice, but the scenarios vary according to a matrix of required exercises as well as the ongoing work on the facilities at the time. When the GPA (General Purpose Alarm) sounds offshore, all personnel must stop work, make their worksites safe and proceed directly to their primary muster areas, unless directed otherwise.

Q) In your line of work, how important is family support?

Support from family is essential. It’s hard working away from the family especially in my experience, where all three of my children have been almost single-handedly brought up by my wife. What has kept me going is my firm belief in the sense of community, where I make sure to observe important occasions and functions such as Ashara Mubaraka and Ramadan with family and not compromise on them. I go to a great deal of trouble to secure those crucial dates for myself and I’ve realised that if you’re honest and straight with your employer, then in my experience, that will always be respected.