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Topic 56: How safe is using a Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) in an offshore platform or Helicopter Travel?

victor.adukwu's picture

Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) are protective equipments used on an offshore platform location, on the barge, during boat travel, when travelling in a Helicopter or aeroplane, when fire drills or emergency drills are being conducted or any other time deemed necessary by boat captain, supervisor, pusher or pilot. It is also important to note that proper attention has to be paid on the use of thee PDSs. Examples of these PFDs are life preserver, work vest, life buoy, life raft, survival capsules etc


Edwin Lawrance's picture

As my friend stated
above Personal Floatation Devices are crucial in a helicopter or in an offshore
platform. We can see its importance just by going through recent North Sea
helicopter accidents, in which all of the workers travelling from an offshore
platform was rescued without any causality. Here when the helicopter ditched
into the sea, all the passengers boarded the PFD in that helicopter. This allowed
them to float until the rescue boats arrived. For ensuring safety while
travelling or at times of work in offshore platforms personal floatation
devices are a must. In situations of fire or accidents in an offshore platform
the primary path to safety is by using PFDs and because of this through quality
and quantity check for PFDs must be done periodically.

Henry Tan's picture

your photo?

Richard Sedafor's picture

I agree with the point that Edwin has raised. Wearing Personal Floatation devices indeed can help save lives.

The fishing industry is said to be one of the deadliest industries in the world and it records more fatalities done most industries. Data collected in the United states alone showed that from 2000 t0 2010,a rate of 124 per 100,000 fatality was recorded for commercial fishermen. [1]. Out Of the 171 overboard fatalities recorded in the same year range none of the victims were wearing a personal floation device. (NIOSH research) This shows that by just wearing a personal Floatation Device a good percentage (approx.31%) of commercial fishing fatalities could have been avoided. NIOSH research among others recommended that the use of flotation aid for workers while on deck be mandatory.

Data collected by the International association of Oil and Gas producers in 2010 showed that 4% of fatalities in that industry that year was due to drowning.[2] By just wearing a Personnal Flotation Device some lives could be saved. 

Some reason some workers give for not wearing Personal Flotation Devices is that they dont feel comfortable working with it. Some even say its not fashionable but I guess the value of life is more important that Comfort and fashion. I strongly suggest that regulations regarding the wearing of Personal Flotation Devices must be strengthened to save more lives.





Jonathan Ogbekhilu's picture

PFDs which stands for personal flotation devices are special PPE required for work in offshore location for special work over water and during water transportation or travel over water.
PFD enable the personnel wearing to it to stay afloat in the event of falling into water or chopper ditching into the sea.

They come in different sizes with 2 major types as:
1. Life vest
2. Work vest
Life vest are usually used in chopper or boats during transportation. They have the capability of self inflating on contact with water or in other cases can be manually inflated. life vest are self-righting that is, it has the capability of keeping the wearer or user face up in water preventing the mouth, eyes, nose and eyes away from water.

Work vest are used during work over water or locations with potential for personnel over boarding. Work vest deos not have the capability of self-righting.

Knowing how to use PFD is as important as using them in real emergency as wrong use of them can mean death to the user. An example is in case of chopper ditching, personnel are strongly advised to not inflate their PFDs while inside the chopper until well clear out of it. Reason behind that is that there is a chance of puncturing the inflated life vest in the vessel or chopper if inflated on board. Secondly, it inhibits the safe and easy off boarding from the vessel if inflate.

PFD for offshore use and chopper transportation is safe if safely handled, users trained on the use of PFD. Top of it is to maintain the integrity of the PFD by ensuring safe keeping, good storage culture and proper handling of PFD such that they are available and in good shape when they are needed in emergency situations.


Jon Ogbekhilu

Derek Porter.'s picture

Responding on your point about the life vests Jon.

There is no doubt the procedures in place (Ref 1) and the manner in which they are used have consistently prevented severe fatalities. I will mention a point that is possibly a negative part of a life jacket. In the event of a helicopter ditching/crashing there may only be one point of exit such as a window. Inexperienced/nervous workers may prematurely set off the jacket creating issues when aborting the helicopter. In such occasion there have been examples of employees being sacked for not following procedures (Ref 2).
There is some designed to inflate when touching water but not all have this function. Are there any other options to avoid this problem?? Maybe there is a gap in the market for a future designer???

Ref 1 -
Ref 2 - Patrick Folan, Marine superintendent, Intermoor Marine Services

Jonathan Ogbekhilu's picture

PFDs should however be differentiated from life saving equipment. PFD is personal which means used by a single individual. Equipment such as life boat, life raft, life buoy etc are in the category of life saving equipment.

Safety features of PFD include:
1. High visibility: they are usually made of color that can be spotted or sighted even in bad weather. They also have reflectors which.

2. Signaling devices: most PFDs come with whistle and flash light for attracting attention

3. High strength material: PFDs are made of very tough material which does not give way easily. This feature makes it possible for personnel to be lifted on by grabbing on a part of it which is at the neck of the wearer.

4. Some have the feature of been able to conserve body heat thereby protecting the wearer from hypothermia

Jon Ogbekhilu

Siwei Kang's picture

I agree with Jonathan Ogbekhilu's point that PFD is a device designed to make wearer afloat. It is different from equipmeent. As the offshore oil and gas is high risk, wearing PFD during work, especially working at height, slips trips and falls, is compulsory for workers in most of companies. 

However, wearing PFD is not equal to be absolutely safe. If the worker falls into the sea from very high site, like the upper deck of platform, the survive chance is still very low, despite wearing the life jacket. Moreover, the survive chance in helicopter crash is near zero except safely landing and floating on the sea level. What I am saying is not going to deny the necessity of PFD. My point is that PFD is only the last hope to survive, and should not be the execuse for lowering the significant or cost of other safety management. It is also not the best way to protect workers. The best one is to optimize desgin and safety management measurement, strictly implement the safety regulation, do the maintance of equipment periodically. If it is that, the accidents like the deepwater horizon would not happen again.

VICTOR ETIM's picture

I agree with Siwei's view on PFD, it is very wrong to always look for short cut instead of planning ahead against accident and mitigative measures.

Therefore the need for committed personal certification on working in offshore operations must be reviewed and sanction regularly to satisfy that personnel are safety conscious for their own survivial. Subsequently in case of emergency the need of a good emergency plan, communication process and understanding is very important in safely application of PDFs as any wrong application can result to escalation of danger and potential fatalities like the case of the deepwater horizon incident.

Thus like Sewei stated PDF is personal and it is only protective when use properly, neccessarily and proportionately to the potential hazard or accident based on individual accessibility to PDF and certification to apply it when required.


51126236. OGE

victor.adukwu's picture

Personal Floatation Devices (PFDs) are protective equipments used on an offshore platform location, on the barge, during boat travel, when travelling in a Helicopter or aeroplane, when fire drills or emergency drills are being conducted or any other time deemed necessary by boat captain, supervisor, pusher or pilot. It is also important to note that proper attention has to be paid on the use of thee PDSs.
The question now is how many Personal Floatation Devices do a barge, helicopter or offshore installation needs? How many and what type of PFD you need depends on the number of people on board, the size and type of your boat, and the kind of boating you do. There must be one of the following wearable PFDs for each person on board:
• Offshore Life Jacket (Type I PFD)
• Near-Shore Buoyant Vest (Type II PFD)
• Floatation Aid (Type III PFD)
• Throw able Device (Type IV PFD)
• Special Use Device (Type V PFD)
In conclusion, most adult need 7 to 12 pounds of buoyancy to keep their head above water. A PFD can give that extra lift and it is made to keep you floating until help comes. Your weight is not the only factor that determines how much lift you need in water. Your body fat, lung size, clothing and whether the water is rough or calm, all play a part in making you stay on top.

Alabi Ochu Abdulraheem's picture

Personal Floatation devices (PFD)
are devices that are designed to keep a person afloat in water. Examples are
life preservers, life jackets, life vest, cork jackets, floatation suit, buoyancy
aid, etc. Safety is the relative freedom from danger and offshore is an environment
where the usage of PFD is of great essence because of the high level of risk
associated with their locations.

In order to achieve a high level
of safety in the usage of PFD, one has to ensure that the PFD is highly
reliable, easily accessible, and readily maintained. To ensure that a PFD is
readily reliable, the PFD should not be used when the conditions are not favourable,
for example the inflatable PFDs are not for use when water impact is expected. The
U.S Coast Guard listed some requirements of high reliability of PFDs which
include:  Checking PFDs for rips, tears,
and holes; making sure seams, straps and hardware are secure; making sure there
is no sign of waterlogging, mildew odour, or shrinkage of the buoyant materials
and checking and replacing spent cartridges in inflatable PFDs.

Outside a very good RAM
(Reliability, Accessibility and Maintainability) analysis, another safety
consideration for a good PFD is to ensure that it has a proper fit. A life
jacket that does not fit properly can put a person at risk of drowning. For
example a properly fitted PFD will not ride higher than the ears or mouth of
the wearer.

The safest PFD is the one you are
always willing to wear and this is dependent on the regular fit and the
manufacturer specification for its usage.



Name: Alabi Ochu Abdulraheem

Reg no: 51231595

Agba A. Imbuo's picture

Personal floating devices (PFD) are designed to help maintain buoyancy in water. The key to accessing the safety level in the use of a PFD is by using it correctly and also the conditions where it is used. Several limiting factors that could overcome the effectiveness of using a PFD for life saving include being trapped in a capsized boat, being held under a boulder, being logged by high current, injuries caused by the accident and a hypothermic condition where the temperature of the body is lowered as a result of long exposure to low temperature (<700c) leading to drowning.  In the event of an accident, there is still a high probability that the person involved could drown and die before he is rescued if any of these conditions act against him.
I will say that even if the use of PFD is encouraged and considered to be safe, designing for safety should be the greatest consideration as it helps improve the overall reliability of a system.


Joan.C.Isichei's picture

In support of Alabi Ochu’s post, especially the last paragraph, I’ll like to add that it is mandatory for all workers, working on an oil rig or travelling by helicopter to an Oil rig platform, to wear immersion suits and life jackets[1]. This underscores the importance of Personal floatation devices in the Offshore “work and travel” environment.  In addition to this, I’ll to share the following story concerning the effect of helicopter travel without a life jacket.

On August 14th, 2008, Pilot, Robert Woodhead, crashed his helicopter while on fire fighting duty. He did not survive the crash. Investigations into the accident indicated “That the 53-year-old survived the crash and escaped the wreckage only to drown because he wasn't wearing a lifejacket”[2]. As a result of this, the helicopter company, known as Elbow Rivers, “has since implemented a policy requiring pilots to wear life vests -- also known as personal flotation devices -- while on duty”[2].




Felipe.Santana.Lima's picture

The importance of PFDs in saving lives is definitely unarguable. However Agba A. Imburo touched upon some very important factors which may determine its effectiveness. It is correct to say that PFD alone is not suffice to save lives as victims can and often do die because of other reasons such as hypothermia, injuries caused by the accident and shark attack. But even in cases where no other life threatening factor is present and the PFD alone might be sufficient, it still depends very much on its orrect use.

As stated, PFDs “are designed to help maintain buoyancy in water”. That means if you are in an enclosed environment such as an aircraft or a closed deck on a boat, wearing a device that makes you float may be more dangerous than using no safety device at all. Even a good swimmer would be incapable of escaping from a capsized vessel if wearing a PFD. Hence where PFDs are of foam core type, they need to be placed either on open decks or on the direct access to the open environment, and procedures need to be in place to ensure that they will never be worn at closed environments. Inflatable PFDs such as those used in aircrafts are designed to be inflated only when in contact with water, which minimises the probability of the victim being trapped inside the cabin by the PFD itself. But even with this protection the inflatable PFD may play against the victim as the cabin or closed deck may get flooded before they escape to the open environment.

Oghenekevwe Ovbije's picture

A personal flotation device (PFD) is a type of personal protective wear that gives you more buoyancy to help stay afloat. There are 5 categories of PFDs namely; Type I: Offshore Life Jackets, Type II: Near-shore Vests, Type III: Flotation Aids, Type IV: Throwable Devices and Type V: Special-use Device. As mentioned in previous post, PFDs have lots of applications and advantages and since its existence; occurrences like drowning have reduced drastically.

Despite all the advantages, there are certain limitations associated with using PFDs.  It can be inferred that up till date the perfect PFD has not yet been designed, like the Type 1 PFDs (off-shore life jackets) have the highest buoyancy and it’s not considered comfortable to wear, the inflatable Type 111 PFDs provide same buoyancy of a Type 1 PFD and are comfortable to wear but they lack the reliability and low maintenance characteristics, they are also expensive.

Several cases of drowning have occurred even with PFDs on, this is because apart from the lack of higher performing PFDs there are other factors like being trapped in an overturned boat, being held under a boulder or log by the strong currents of water, removing the PFD, becoming hypothermic due to long duration of exposure in cold water [1]

[1] USCG: PFD Selection, Use, Wear & Care of PFDs Available at: Accessed 12/8/2012, 2012.


Personal Floating Device, PFD is a very important life saving device that is required to keep the wearer afloat. PFD includes life jackets, life preserver, life vests, cork jacket, mae west etc. They come in different sizes and design in accordance to its use.

Workers in offshore oil platforms are required to wear these PFDs to avoid drowning in the event of an emergency. PFDs should also be worn during helicopter travel over water. More lives would have been lost during the Macondo disaster if not for the PFDs. 8 rig workers that did not get into the life boats jumped into the sea and stayed afloat till they were rescued.




t01sik12's picture

A personal flotation device (abbreviated as PFD; also referred to as, lifejacket, life preserver, Mae West, life vest, life saver, cork jacket, buoyancy aid, flotation suit, etc.) is a device designed to assist a wearer, either conscious or unconscious, to keep afloat.  Prior to their offshore assignment and Helicopter boarding new personnel shall receive training in helicopter and vessel operations.  All personnel going offshore must bring the appropriate PPE. This includes: a hardhat; safety glasses; steel toed footwear; and a Type A Personal Floatation Device. (Off-shore life jacket provides the most buoyancy. It is effective for all waters, especially open, rough or remote waters where rescue may be delayed) In terms of risk of drowning, the safest Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is the one you’re willing to wear.

With the eventual aim to achieve a reasonable level of safety with the use of PFD, PFD should be is highly reliable, easily accessible, and readily maintained. To be proactive with PFD, this item must be readily reliable; PFD should not be used when the conditions are not favorable for use. The safety of putting on PFD can’t be argued. We all want to see our loved ones, then we must always be on our PFD when boarding a helicopter and also on the rig plat form.










Samuel Kanu


Msc Subsea Engineering

Hani Shobaki's picture

When I was undertaking my helicopter escape training as part of my offshore survival certification, it was clear that there are very strict procedures that must be followed when using a personal floatation device.

A life jacket is vital even to a strong swimmer, it allows you to save energy and will always float you on your back. This is very important for keeping your airways protected when unconscious. It can also be your worst enemy if used incorrectly. 

A top-heavy helicopter will often turn upside down in water, making the passengers on board disorientated. The pressure of the water often will make it impossible to open windows or doors, and it is recommended that the helicopter is completely full before one try to open the escape door, as the pressure will be equal on both sides. It is at this point where it might be tempting to inflate your jacket. However aside from the damage to the jacket that may occur when exiting, there is the additional risk of being trapped. An inflated jacket is cumbersome and will make tight spaces harder to negotiate. More importantly the escape route may require you to swim down and if you are inflated this will be impossible. This is a reason why water activated life jackets should never be used on helicopters. 

As we all know PFD is a life saving jacket. PFD helps the person to float on water under emergency either consious or unconscious. It is designed to provide buoyancy with freedom of movement. PFD is very important in offshore platforms or in helicopter travel. In an offshore platform the during fire or explotion, the easiest and safest way of escaping is by jumping to the sea with a PFD. Most of the people escaped from the platform are by jumping to the sea. The case of helicopters are also the same. PFD is a must for any helicopter travel and for a good safety culture PFD is must. 

Liu Yishan's picture

Personal Flotation Device (PFD) is essential for the offshore workers. They will save lives in the emergency. The development of PFD is accompanied with the changes of materials. Most PFD's today are made of very durable, water resistant materials, like denier nylon for an outer shell. There is another neoprene shell which can also be found in the PFD market. Foam is the popular choice for flotation. With adjustable straps and comfortable designs available, there is a PFD to fit here all body types. Thus, the PFDs can exert their all actions to help the workers in safety even when accidents happened. Therefore, PFD is very important in offshore platforms.


Samuel Bamkefa's picture

Great analyses from Hani and Felipe. It has been established that PFDs can only be as safe as their condition and usage. PFDs will only save if someting else does not kill. That being said, these devices have proven to be vital. Taking a statistic from boating, it was reported by the US coatguard that 84% of victims that died in 2009 were not using PFDs and that three quarters of accident victims drowned [1]. These statistics could have been different with helicoper travel, but it shows how PFDs can be instrumental in reducing drowning incidences

A major source of fatality in cold water as someone pointed out is hypothermia. It should be noted however, that well fitted PFDs can help reduce the heat loss from the body as it will cover some parts. This will be more efficient if used with a helicopter travel suit. A precaution that should be taken by the user as well is to keep his/head out of water as much as possible becuase the head is one of the parts that lose heat the most [2].

In order to increase survival chances, the 'survival position' should be assumed by the user and the 'help position' if in a group. It will also be advisable for the victim not to take in any water from the sea, as this could cause 'internal drowning'.


[1] Facts about Personal Flotation Devices. Oregon State Marine Board News, Available on Accessed on  10/12/2012

[2] PFD Selection, Use, Wear and Care. United States Coast Guard. Available on Accessed on 10/12/2012

Samuel Bamkefa

Connie Shellcock's picture

Derek porter above suggested that there were
procedures in place set out by HSE. I would just like to elaborate on this. HSE
has given exact features that a lifejacket (PFD) should have. These include
airway protection as already mentioned, buoyancy, neck support, spray hood and
also thigh or crotch straps. On top of these features duty holders have to demonstrate
that they are going to work and if some of these features are missing they have
to justify that their model of the PFD is going to work if needed. As the
responsibility of maintenance of these pdf lies with the duty holder it can be
said that PFDs are as safe as the duty holder makes them to be.

Kelvin Arazu's picture

Using a personal floatation device is certainly a good safety practise I support the usage of PFDs. The design of this life saving equipment should be improved because in the event of an accident and an unconsious person is immersed into water, I want to identify mouth immersion as a possible failure mode that perhaps would be the case with the usage of PFDs.

Mouth immersion in this context is a failure event that would cause the ingestion of water in a more forcefully way, when the PFDs are not designed to protect
the face of the survivor in it [1]. This is common to unconscious survivor floating on the surface of the water, as not too many people that wear these jackets are good swimmers. A common fact holds that a sudden trip into the water body could cause some level unconsciousness. 

it's is extremely important to always keep it securely fastened while you have it on. Especially working on the surface of deep water body.

We cannot prevent people who wear PFDs from drowning, but wearing a life jacket whenever you are out on the water is by far the single best thing you can do to prevent drowning.

In my choice of words, remember that it's not the PFD the save lives; it's you and me wearing them that saves lives! So if we can, the designers have to help us to
improve the design to be able to cover our faces properly in an event of accident to forestall mouth immersion.  

[1] CDR Kim Pickens, U.S Coast Guard Reserve Operation Boat Smart Project Officer.

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