It’s 2009, and I am on a rig off the coast of Nigeria.
A semi-submersible rig, to be precise, which had been around for a very long time. So long in fact, that I was asked to avoid certain areas that weren’t considered safe. Come on; it wasn’t the first time I had worked on a rig with bits like that, so we just got on with the job.
My role at that time was as a Global-Safety Behaviour Coach and Facilitator, specialising in Africa and multi-cultural environments. I had been called in as ‘intervention’ – a spate of incidents had happened on the rig leading up to this moment, and I was experienced and well-positioned to do the job.
At 7 pm, I’m in the middle of running one of many Safety Leadership Workshops. We touch on the right variety of ‘leader-fit’ topics and provide on-going coaching with individuals and teams; this embeds skills and conversational intelligence. Getting stuff done in a safe and efficient manner while leading people in a High-Hazard Environment is never easy. Believe me.
But we carry on, don’t we?
Around half way through the workshop, key people started getting calls and excusing themselves; and I began to get the feeling that something wasn’t right… you know, when the energy around us starts to shift? But we carry on. And so I did… until only a couple of people were left. When the Safety guy was called away, that’s when I stopped.
I headed off to the Offshore Installation Manager’s (OIM) office to see what was going on. To be honest, it was all a bit eerie with no OIM in sight. And as I looked up at the monitoring screens I realised I was watching a body bag being hauled up from the column lift; the very same lift I had been told was not considered safe.
That day, a man died after falling 100ft down a lift well. That day, a father, a son, a best friend and a leader passed away in the prime of his life and career. The remaining 100-man crew were left in devastation, many who were a long way from their homes and loved ones.
To this day, the event remains sharp, vivid and sorrowful to me.
As you can imagine, at this point, I am in a bit of shock; this is by no means my first incident and not even my first death (was once a nurse). But this event was particularly awful, not least the surrounding rumours and insinuations about how and why it happened. And even today, I am still not sure it is entirely clear.
Within hours (it felt like minutes), a whole range of people landed on the rig including specialist investigators, police, government bodies, more safety experts, organisational leaders and more it was relentless; this was no ordinary incident.
For the first 36+hrs straight, the chaos and sadness were all consuming. The OIM was now living on Red Bull and pain – not only had he lost a key member of his crew, but he had lost his best friend. He had to continue, we all did. I am sure you have empathy for him in the midst of officials looking to blame – yes I said blame – with people postulating about all manner of things and, from where I was standing, little concern for the feelings and shock of the people involved. I remember feeling disgusted by the whole process, and this is from a professional who understands that investigations have to be done in a rigorous and logical manner. That’s not my gig: I prefer to help and support people, but I digress.
As you might imagine, I think I need to get off this rig for bed-space alone, if nothing else. But the OIM and Company Man insisted –
I was the last person they wanted to have left the rig.
My new role as ‘grief counselor’ meant that I was provided with a room where people directly involved could come, get comfort and share their feelings in complete confidentiality. I had already primed everyone for trust, having been there for a while, and I have a natural instinct for nurture and listening without judgement. Was my primary qualification for this role that I was the only woman onboard?
Whatever the reason, I took this new role very seriously.
Was it draining? Was I devastated? You bet. To this day, there are conversations had in those hours that have never been shared.
I profoundly understood, by living through this critical event, that sharing with a professional coach – whether off-loading after an incident or engaging in on-going personal development – can make an enormous difference in people’s lives.
This event is just one of many of my life experience that has sowed the seeds for my direction in life and desire to help people have conversations that matter.
If you’re interested in finding out more about my coaching style, life experience and how I may support you… please leave a comment below as I would love to have a conversation about your thoughts and experiences.