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Editorial comment

According to research in The Annals of Occupational Hygiene, offshore environments present many physical hazards including noise and vibration, various forms of radiation and thermal extremes.1 Specifically, the two important potential health problems from exposure to noise offshore are noise-induced hearing loss and sleep disturbance.

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Offshore environments are generally loud due to various equipment and machinery. In 2016, the China National Offshore Oil Corp. researched the impact of noise on offshore platforms by measuring sound levels at 373 sites spread across six platforms and found that 70% of those sites had noise levels in excess of 80 dBA.2

Working on oil rigs demands a high level of alertness, focus, as well as physical and mental well-being, and employees need to prioritise sleep health to mitigate against the risks associated with fatigue and stress.

Conventional foam earplugs and custom-moulded options used for sleeping often fall short in cancelling out low-frequency noises prevalent in offshore environments. Additionally, research shows white noise machines that add sound to try and mask other sounds can damage sleep quality.3

Even though this environment is challenging for sleep, there is an innovative tech solution: active noise cancelling (ANC). This breakthrough technology emerges as a game changer that addresses low-frequency noises where regular earplugs or white noise machines cannot.

ANC technology uses microphones to sample ambient sound and a speaker to generate a phase-shifted sound that cancels out the original noise. This is particularly effective in targeting persistent low-frequency noises that permeate through the steel ships and enabling quality sleep even in unique conditions.

On average there are about 180 – 200 people living on a rig at a given time, and in addition to the noises the ship itself makes, oil rig workers are often sleeping in small, unfamiliar quarters and sharing spaces with new people who may snore or have different sleeping habits.

This can cause frustration and stress for those who can’t sleep well enough to feel safe and productive during working hours. Additionally, based on a study in the North Sea, oil rig workers are particularly susceptible to shift work disorder (SWD) – a circadian rhythm sleep disorder caused by work hours during the usual sleep period.4

Sleep quality in offshore environments has serious implications for employee safety and performance. For example, studies show that sleep deprivation can impair cognitive function, reaction times, and decision-making abilities. In the high-risk environment of an oil rig, where the potential for accidents is significant, alertness and quick, accurate decision-making are crucial for preventing mishaps and ensuring the safety of the crew.5

Furthermore, the oil and gas industry involves complex machinery and processes where sleep deprivation can lead to errors, lapses in attention, and poor coordination, increasing the likelihood of accidents or injuries.

There are many benefits to consistently getting a good night’s sleep including improved brain performance, mood, and health overall. Additionally, according to the US Department of Health, getting enough quality sleep regularly decreases the risk of many diseases and disorders ranging from heart disease and stroke to obesity and dementia.6

Low-frequency noises and unfamiliar environments for those living on oil rigs need to be managed with innovative technology to ensure safety. ANC technology has emerged as a crucial tool to enhance sleep quality, promote employee well-being, and foster a safer working environment. As technology continues to advance, the integration of ANC into the daily lives of those working in challenging conditions ensures a safer and healthier option for living with the hum of machinery that accompanies life at sea or on gas and oil platforms.

*References are available upon request.