The Size and Shape of Offshore Workers

The Size and Shape of Offshore Workers

Over the three decades since the first anthropometric survey of UK Offshore Workers in 1984, their weight has increased by 19%, with commensurate increases in girth at the waist, neck, chest, hip and wrist varying between 12% and 17%.

Research on the size and shape of the North Sea offshore workforce
Funding Body
Knowledge Transfer Partnership (Technology Strategy Board) and Oil & Gas UK
Award Value
Start Date
Jan 2013
End Date
Dec 2014
1 year

This novel 3D body scanning study assessed 588 male offshore workers in various postures, including wearing full survival suits and also form-fitting clothing.  A quota sampling approach across the entire weight spectrum in seven weight categories ensured the sample was representative of the wider workforce.  Data from the study indicated that the typical offshore worker’s physique presented a less favourable health risk than that measured previously, due to the centralisation of excess mass to the torso.  Extracted dimensions from workers’ physiques were then subjected to k-means cluster analysis to determine natural groupings of similar shapes and proportions.  Physiques grouped into 11 clusters, but these did not always correspond to survival suit sizes selected by individuals, due to personal preference and subjectivity.  Because trapped air within suits may represent a risk when escaping a submerged helicopter, a subsequent immersion experiment was conducted which revealed larger participants to be more likely to become critically buoyant after venting the suits on immersion, hampering their ability to egress from a submerged helicopter. 

In summary, while many offshore workers appeared healthy, a large number were excessively heavy, due to either muscle or fat accumulation, or both.  Implications for the health and wellbeing of offshore workers, both in terms of physical health, but also in egress potential in an emergency have been highlighted by this study, which was the winner of the Ewan MacDonald Prize for excellence in Occupational Health audit or processes.  The study has yielded a raft of academic publications and attracted approximately £0.25 m equivalent in publicity in printed media, and numerous TV and radio interviews.

  • Graham Furnace (PI)
  • Arthur Stewart
  • Robert Ledingham (KTP Associate) 
  • Robert Paterson (OGUK)
  • Moira Lamb (OGUK)

Professor Alan Nevill from the University of Wolverhampton and Dr Natasha Schranz from the University of South Australia assisted in statistical analysis and data presentation for publications.

  1. Ledingham, R., Nevill, A.M. & Stewart, A.D. Reproducibility of body volume assessments in survival clothing in fixed and portable scanning systems. Proceedings of the 4th 3D body Scanning Conference, Long Beach California, November 2013. pp.  355-359.
  2. Ledingham, R. & Stewart, A.D. Volumetric and space requirements of the offshore workforce: The effects of donning a survival suit. Proceedings of the 4th 3D body Scanning Conference, Long Beach California, November 2013. pp. 317 – 322.
  3. Ledingham, R., Lamb, M., Aleksandrova, G. & Stewart, A. (2015). Size and Shape of the UK Offshore Workforce 2014: A 3D scanning survey. Robert Gordon University. ISBN 978-1-907349-10-2.
  4. Stewart, A., Ledingham, R., Furnace, G. & Nevill, A. (2015). Body Size and ability to pass through a restricted space: Observations from 3D scanning of 210 male UK Offshore Workers. Applied Ergonomics, 51, 358-362.  DOI: 10.1016/j.apergo.2015.06.017
  5. Ledingham, R., Furnace, G., Lamb, M. & Stewart, A. (2015). Size and Shape of the UK Offshore Workforce 2014: Data from the 3D scanning survey.  Oil & Gas UK.
  6. Stewart, A., Ledingham, R., Williams, H. (2016). Variability in body size and shape of UK Offshore Workers: a cluster analysis approach. Applied Ergonomics, 58, 265-272. DOI: 10.1016/j.apergo.2016.07.001
  7. Stewart, A., Ledingham, R., Furnace, G., Schranz, N. & Nevill, A. (2016). The ability of UK offshore workers of different body size and shape to egress through a restricted window space. Applied Ergonomics, 55, 226-233. DOI: 10.1016/j.apergo.2015.11.005.  
  8. Stewart, A., Ledingham, R., Furnace, G., Williams, H. & Coleshaw, S. (2017). Survival suit volume reduction associated with immersion: implications for buoyancy estimation in offshore workers of different size. Ergonomics, 60, 844-850.  DOI 10.1080/00140139.2016.1188219.
  9. Stewart, A., Ledingham, R., Furnace, G. & Williams, H. Nevill, A. (2017). Shape change and obesity prevalence among male UK offshore workers after 30 years: new insight from a 3D scanning study. American Journal of Human Biology, 00:e22992
  10. Stewart, A.D., Ledingham, R.J., Furnace, G. & Williams, H. Nevill, A.M. (2016).  Defying geometric similarity: shape centralization in male UK offshore workers American Journal of Human Biology, Doi: 10.1002/ajhb.22935

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