University Mental Health expert discusses oil and gas industry

Dr Steve Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing at RGU
Dr Steve Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing at RGU

A senior lecturer at Robert Gordon University (RGU) has given his views on mental health in the oil and gas industry, as part of a campaign with Petroplan.

Petroplan is a specialist oil, gas and energy recruiter, which has been placing professionals into roles across six continents for 40 years.

As part of a new focus, they have started a campaign to encourage the industry to think about the mental health of its workers, rather than choosing to focus on the perhaps more obvious physical risks faced by employees.

Dr Steve Smith is a Senior Lecturer in Mental Health and Wellbeing at RGU and an Enterprise Fellow of the University, with over twenty years’ experience as a Solution Focused Therapist.

Dr Smith has previously applied his knowledge and experience to the oil and gas industry – in addition to remote medical health and organisational coaching – and was happy to contribute to Petroplan’s campaign.

He said: “We have eradicated, or controlled for, almost all the risk factors in the highly dangerous environment of oil and gas exploration and retrieval.

“The biggest risk factor we have left is our own refusal to respond to issues of mental health and wellbeing across the industry.”

There were several key areas that Dr Smith highlighted as having a particular impact on one’s wellbeing.

These included isolation from loved ones, high-pressure working environments with no downtime, working in risky territories, the pressures of a macho environment with stigma around ‘feeling low’ and the difficulties of transitioning back to normal life.

Dr Smith said: “Tragically, we have seen the catastrophic consequences of unmanaged problems in the oil and gas industry several times over the past four decades.

“That there haven’t been more of these disasters over the years is something that the industry can rightly be proud of and the focus on prevention of accidents and negative events has become a central part of its culture.

“However, the consequences of unmanaged stress can be just as catastrophic; catastrophic for the individual, for their families, for the people and the organisations they work for and for the industry as a whole.”

Heather Nickson, Head of Marketing at Petroplan, said: “Petroplan’s founders are engineers themselves and have always placed the welfare of contractors and candidates as central to Petroplan’s service. This ethos remains in the business today.

“We hope this campaign raises awareness of mental health so that both professionals and employers will take steps to pay attention to its impact and encourage them to openly discuss anxiety and stress before it poses a risk.”