The following guidance has been published by Oil & Gas UK
Although we believe the overall risk to the UK is low, having taken expert advice, Oil & Gas UK recommends the following to its members:
- Ensure personnel receive appropriate advice on avoiding Ebola infection prior to deployment to Ebola-affected countries.
- Ensure that personnel returning from deployment to Ebola-affected countries are reminded to seek medical attention if they are unwell, or become unwell within 21 days of return, and that personnel should tell the doctor they have recently been to an Ebola-affected country.
- Maintain a list of personnel returning from deployment to Ebola-affected countries to assist in government screening procedures.
- Remind personnel not to proceed offshore if feeling unwell, unless they have sought medical advice first, and that personnel should tell the doctor if they have recently been to an Ebola-affected country.
- Delay any intended visit to a UK offshore installation for a worker who has been (for work or personal reasons) to an Ebola-affected country until a period of 21 days has passed since their return.
- Seek assurance from their medical adviser/contractors (where relevant) that they aware of Public Health England and Health Protection Scotland advice on clinical assessment of suspected Ebola cases.
In March 2014 an outbreak of Ebola, a severe viral illness, began in Guinea, West Africa. The outbreak spread to neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone and has continued since then. Other African countries (Senegal, Nigeria) had imported cases of Ebola and some secondary transmission but have been able to bring these limited outbreaks under control. Several patients with Ebola (all of whom were European or North American healthcare workers who had been treating patients) have been taken from West Africa to the USA and European countries for treatment. Recently there has been a secondary case in Spain (in a nurse treating a patient brought from West Africa) and an imported case in the USA (in a Liberian man who developed the illness after having been on a visit to Liberia). Oil & Gas UK has received an increasing number of enquiries about Ebola infection, and this guidance note has been produced to provide relevant information for the UK offshore oil and gas industry.
Detailed information on Ebola virus infection and the current outbreak can be obtained from the following websites:
Key points to note are:
- Incubation period is 2-21 days, with an average of 13 days
- Disease is not infectious until symptoms present
- Symptoms – fever, headache, sore muscles/joints, sore throat, intense malaise, diarrhoea, vomiting, bleeding
- Transmitted by direct contact with body fluids of an infected person
- Not transmitted by ‘airborne’ route
- High mortality (up to 70 per cent, around 40 per cent in current outbreak)
- No immunisation available.
Advice for employers deploying personnel to Ebola-affected countries
It should be normal industry practice for any employee being deployed abroad to receive specific advice regarding health (and other) risks regarding their visit. Employers will typically arrange a consultation for this purpose with their own medical services provider, but health advice can be obtained from ‘Fit for Travel’, the National Travel Health Network and Centre, or similar organisations.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) provides advice regarding visa requirements, security and health risks, and other aspects of travel to countries outside the UK (see: https://www.gov.uk/foreign-travel-advice) and is currently advising against all non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.
Where employers deem it essential to deploy personnel to Ebola-affected countries, they should ensure that prior to deployment personnel receive advice on avoiding Ebola infection. This can be obtained from the sources mentioned above, and includes advice to:
- Avoid contact with live or dead animals
- Avoid consumption of ‘bush meat’
- Avoid contact with patients with symptoms, and their body fluids
- Avoid contact with the corpses of deceased patients, and the body fluids of deceased persons
- Follow strict hand-washing and other normal personal hygiene measures
- Practice safe sex.
Employers intending to deploy personnel as humanitarian aid workers or with the intention of treating Ebola patients should obtain specific advice from their medical advisers, HPS or PHE before doing so.
Advice for employers with personnel returning from Ebola-affected areas
It is possible that despite all precautions a person who has visited an Ebola-affected country may acquire infection and return to the UK either while obviously unwell with symptoms, or without symptoms but incubating the disease and becoming ill after their return.
It should be a normal part of pre-deployment preparation for personnel to be advised that if they are, or become ill on their return to the UK, they should seek medical advice and explain that they have been abroad. Personnel returning from Ebola-affected countries (Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone) should be reminded that if they are unwell, or become unwell within 21 days, they should seek medical advice from their own usual treating doctor, and explain to the doctor that they have been to an Ebola-affected country.
Screening of returning travellers
The UK government has introduced screening of travellers arriving in the UK from Ebola-affected countries. Oil & Gas UK anticipates that similar screening of oil and gas company personnel returning from Ebola-affected countries may also be implemented.
Employers are advised to maintain a list of all personnel returning from deployment to Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone, to aid in the screening process.
Preventing cases of Ebola disease on offshore installations
While it is normal industry practice for workers to be advised that if they are ill they should not proceed offshore, it is recognised that because of a desire not to ‘let down’ their back-to-back colleague, or from concern about loss of income, some may still do so. Employers should remind workers proceeding offshore not to do so if ill, unless they have first sought medical advice. This should be available from the employer’s medical adviser or occupational health service provider. Workers should be reminded to tell their medical adviser if their illness follows a visit to an Ebola-affected country (Guinea, Liberia or Sierra Leone) within the previous 21 days.
While personnel deployed on business to Ebola-affected countries should have received pre-departure advice as outlined above, employees making non-work visits to Ebola-affected countries to visit family or friends may not have done so. It is a plausible scenario for the occurrence of a suspected case of Ebola infection on an offshore installation to be one in which a normally-onshore employee makes a visit offshore within three weeks of return from a private visit to an Ebola-affected country, during which they have looked after an ill family member or friend, or indeed attended funeral preparations for a family member or friend.
It is recommended that any personnel who have been to an Ebola-affected country (whether on work-related business or for personal reasons) do not proceed to UK sector offshore installations, but delay their visit/trip until a minimum period of 21 days from their return to the UK from that country.
Assessing suspected cases of Ebola disease
Specific clinical advice in the form of an algorithm is available to medical staff and has been brought to the attention of company medical advisers and topside service providers by Oil & Gas UK. Installation operators should satisfy themselves that their medical advisers/contractors have access to this.
Oil & Gas UK, 14 October 2014.