Oil Drilling Roustabout/Roughneck

The Job and What's Involved

Oil Drilling RigRoustabouts and roughnecks work as part of a small team on offshore oil or gas drilling rigs or production platforms. Roustabouts do unskilled manual labouring jobs on rigs and platforms, and roughneck is a promotion from roustabout.

Roustabouts do basic tasks to help keep the rig and platform working efficiently. Typical daily jobs are likely to include:

  • Cleaning, scraping and painting the deck, equipment and work areas.
  • Off-loading supplies from boats and moving them to storage areas.
  • Mixing and conditioning drilling mud.
  • Moving supplies and equipment to the work site.
  • Stacking drill-pipes.
  • General work in the pump room (such as helping to repair mud pumps).

The roustabout's job is physically demanding, very hands-on and practical. Most of the work is carried out under the supervision of a lead roustabout.

Roughnecks do practical tasks involved in the drilling operation, under the supervision of the driller:

  • Adding fresh lengths of drill-pipe as the drill bites deeper into rock.
  • Pulling the whole drill out to change the drill-bit or to retrieve rock cores.
  • Cleaning, de-sanding and de-silting equipment
  • Keeping the drilling equipment in good order.

Working hours on rigs and platforms are normally 12 hours on and 12 hours off continuously for two or three weeks, followed by an equal amount of rest period at home.

Oil drilling rigs are small, mobile structures. Production platforms are larger, accommodating 50 to 100 men and women, where facilities include cabins, canteens, recreational facilities and offices.

Working on a rig or platform involves hard, physical labour in all types of weather. Conditions can be dirty, wet and noisy. The work can involve bending, lifting and working at heights.

Getting to and from the rig or platform usually involves flying by helicopter.

Living with work colleagues for long periods of time means that offshore workers have to be able to co-operate in a group.

Starting salaries may be around £18,000 a year. There are usually travel allowances for getting to and from the rig or platform.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

The oil and gas industry is a global business using advanced technology and innovative techniques to find and extract oil. It maintains the supply of energy to major industries as well as to individual homes.

Around 26,000 people in the UK work offshore on mobile drilling rigs, fixed production platforms, or floating production, storage or off-loading units (FPSOs).

There are around 6,000 companies involved in the oil and gas industry in the UK. Employers include:

  • Operating companies (usually oil companies) that hold exploration and production licences and operate throughout the world.
  • Drilling companies, contracted to carry out drilling work.
  • Major contractors that provide operation and maintenance services to operating companies.
  • FPSO operators.
  • Service companies that provide specialist assistance to operating and drilling companies (drilling mud suppliers, cementing companies, seismic firms, divers and caterers etc).

The UK offshore oil and gas industry is located mainly off the east coast of Scotland and England. There are also fields in the Irish Sea and west of the Shetland Islands. Many employers operate throughout the world, so it may be possible to work overseas.

Jobs are advertised on www.oilcareers.com and on the websites of major employers. The Energy Institute's website has links to people offering work experience, and the UK Offshore Operators Association website has a list of employers.

Education and Training

The minimum age for working offshore is 18, but in practice people tend to be 21 or older.

A new entrant starts as a roustabout and with training and experience gains promotion to roughneck. No formal academic qualifications are needed to work as a roustabout, but many employers want people with some relevant experience.

Entrants must be at least 1.63m (5ft 5ins) tall, physically fit, and without speech defects. They may be required to pass an offshore medical before working offshore.

It is useful to have some relevant work experience - for example, in shipbuilding or construction, or service in the Armed Forces.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

All offshore workers must complete an offshore survival and fire-fighting course. Many companies offer the course on joining, but some people complete it at their own expense before looking for work in the industry.

Courses vary in length and cost between £450 and £550, plus accommodation charges. There is a waiting list for most of them. Completing a course does not guarantee a job in the industry. OPITO can provide a list of centres that offer offshore survival courses.

Roustabouts are given induction training onshore, which lasts two or three weeks. This includes information on the industry and the company, health and safety, and skills training. Further on-the-job training as a roustabout, and later, as a roughneck, takes place offshore on the rig or platform.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Roustabouts and roughnecks need:

  • Good practical hand skills.
  • To be strong and physically fit.
  • To be prepared to work away from home.
  • To be able to live and work as a member of a team.
  • To be prepared to fly to and from the rig or platform.
  • To be punctual meeting aircraft (to relieve crew members returning to shore).
  • To be safety conscious.
  • To be able to work at heights.

Your Long Term Prospects

Roustabouts who show ability can become roughnecks after about six months. Further promotion is to assistant driller and driller.

It is possible to become a driller within about five years. Further advancement is to toolpusher (rig manager).

Get Further Information

Energy Institute, 61 New Cavendish Street,
London W1G 7AR
Tel: 020 7467 7100
Website: www.energyinst.org.uk

Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB),
Blue Court, Church Lane,
Kings Langley, Hertfordshire WD4 8JP
Tel: 01923 260000
Website: www.ecitb.org.uk

Offshore Petroleum Industry
Training Organization (UK) (OPITO),
Minerva House, Bruntland Road,
Portlethen, Aberdeen AB12 4QL
Tel: 01224 787800
Website: www.oilandgastechnicians.com

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