Pragmatic 36: Prevailing Wind Direction

8 September, 2014


Working in Engineering construction sometimes requires working away from home and this comes with its own set of challenges. Vic Hudson joins John to talk about good and the bad and the issues no-one else seems to think or talk about.

Transcript available
Welcome to pragmatic. Pragmatic is a weekly discussion show contemplating the practical application of technology. Exploring the real world trade-offs, we look at how great ideas are transformed into products and services that can change our lives. Nothing is as simple as it seems. This episode is sponsored by ManyTricks, help makers of helpful apps for the Mac. Visit for more information about their apps, Butler, Kimo, Leech, Desktop, Curtain, TimeSync, Usher, Moom, Name Mangler, and Witch. Jeez, I'm getting good at saying those. If you visit that URL, you can use the code pragmatic25, that's pragmatic, the word, and 25, the numbers, in the shopping cart to save 25% on any ManyTricks product. I'm your host, John Chidjie, and I'm joined today by my co-host, Vic Hudson. How are you doing, Vic? I'm good, John. How are you? Very good, thank you. Very good. Before we get stuck into today's topic, there's a few brief announcements I wanted to make. By popular request, I have now gone back and said, well, I'm going to add separate RSS feeds for the show that are just for episodes. So an episodes only feed as well as a follow-up only feed. And that'll be in both the mp3 and the IAC format. So you can choose which one you want to subscribe to. The existing feeds will be unchanged. They're still there, completely unchanged. And they're all put together in a nice little table. And you can find them at And you can then choose. Because I had a lot of requests for that. And originally I said, that I'll follow up as part of the show and so on. But I thought, well, you know what, if a few people are asking for it, then that's the vocal minority. And then of course there's the non vocal minority, which is usually 10 times that size that are secretly quietly grinding their teeth in the background, wishing that that would happen. So I've decided, what the heck, there you go. So if that's what you've been waiting for, go right ahead, go for it. Okay, next is once again, yes, we are live streaming the show. So there is an IRC chat room on, but if you go to the URL, you can access the stream there, or you can use the embedded IRC chat box to join in. And as is becoming the new format of the show, well, I say the new format, it's not that different really. We've got a Q&A segment after every show. So during the course of the show, if you do join us in the live stream, you have any questions you wanna ask, you can pose them during the show with apostrophe QA and we'll address them at the end. I do have a basic show bot running. It's still currently only running for titles and title voting only. I will be adding more functionality to that in coming weeks. I've just been flat out with work and I've actually been skipping to and from site quite a bit. And when I say site, I mean it's about 200 miles west of home, which is in the sticks out in the bushland. land. Yes, just south of a town called Miles. I say just south, I mean half an hour's drive south-ish. So anyway, so for anyone that knows the area, yeah, it's kind of the middle of nowhere, but that's okay. So, and it's funny because it's actually about that that I wanted to talk a bit today and I appreciate Vic, you're coming on to participate. I sort of, It's been one of those things. The last four episodes of the show have been either software related in one form or another. I mean, I've talked about open source, I've talked about servers, I've talked about software development on Android, you know, with different, you know, experts in those areas. And yeah, that's all great and wonderful. However, ultimately, I think that it's time that I addressed a growing amount of feedback about the show where people have said look you know we want more engineering topics and that's fine that is of course you know my background and i can speak to that in a lot more depth and hopefully hopefully this episode will provide those people what they've been looking for so anyway without further ado so today i wanted to talk about site work specifically construction site work and i will be releasing an article on tech distortion uh two articles actually over the next week that will essentially dovetail into this episode. And I've been working on this for a while. So, have you ever worked in a situation where you've been away from home for a reasonable period of time? And by that, I mean, I guess more than overnight, you know, like three, four, five days, two weeks, three weeks, something like that. A couple of days, like three or four days tops. Okay. So, when you did that, did you, were you in a relationship at that point or was that beforehand when you were still footloose and fancy free? I was pretty much still free at that point. Okay, fair enough. Well, the experiences I found were heavily based on my relationship status at the time because when I was younger, I went over to Canada for a long time and I left my family back here. But they, I mean my mother and my sisters, of course, but I was footloose and fancy free, could do what I want when I wanted, how I wanted. But what I'm specifically referring to is the situation where in the construction industry and engineering there's always been an issue with building things in remote locations. And I suppose the most common, there's two acronyms for it. There's DIDO and FIFO. D.I.D.O. is short for drive in drive out and FIFO is short for fly in fly out as opposed to a first in first out buffer which is completely something different. For those programmers out there anyhow that's where I was headed. Well yeah exactly in the first time I heard FIFO and I read that terminology I'm like it's a buffer. What? Anyway, so no, fly in, fly out. So, the idea is that the location that you're trying to get to is more than a few hours from your place of residence and driving in or driving out is an option and you could do it every day. But if you go beyond that point, suddenly it becomes too difficult, too much of an ask and suddenly it's better for you to go there and to stay rather than to go and come back every single day. So, at that point in time, it becomes, I'm now going to site for a period of time and then I'm going to return home again. So, when I speak about site, I'm specifically referring to going to site as in staying away from home for a period of time. And I don't want to differentiate between getting put up in a hotel or going to a camp because honestly, it amounts to a similar experience, although admittedly, the camp experience is different. So let's say you're going to a place that like, okay, so in my experience, I'll talk about my experience, I guess, 'cause it's the easiest to get a handle on for me, is that I've done work in cities predominantly, but away from home, as well as I've done work out in the sticks, which is, you know, where there is nothing. It's literally a patch of dirt, hundreds, a hundred miles from anywhere of any size, which means of course you have no facilities. So they build a camp. It's literally, it's not a camp like tents, you know, well, although I'm sure at some point in history it would have been. It's more like a bunch of demountable buildings all grouped together. There's a mess hall. There's usually a gym. Some of the better ones have a gym and you hope that the gym equipment is not too ratty and tatty because, well, sometimes it is. And of course, I'm thinking like a modern day mass unit. Yeah, exactly. A bit like that. Actually, it's a really good analogy. Yes. Although as I say with demountable buildings rather than tents. But that's the sort of environment. So you've got this little mini community whose sole purpose is to construct something, whatever it might be. So in my recent experience, literally as in, I don't know, the last two weeks, I've actually been living out at site and I'm going back again for another two weeks. And that's one of the reasons the show times have been a bit erratic in the last few weeks is because I've been to and from site. And this particular plant is a gas compression facility, and it's in coal seam gas. And because of by virtue of work, because it's mining, where the camp is, is essentially where the minerals are. And that leads to this issue where you literally have to construct a little township in order to support the people that are building it. And all the people that are there are there for one reason, same reason as you, build this thing. And that creates a very interesting dynamic. Prior to this, I've worked on different projects. Most of the ones away from home were in Townsville, though one was in northern New South Wales. And Townsville, for those that are not familiar with the geography of Queensland, is one and a half hours on a plane north of Brisbane. And Townsville's actually the second largest city outside of Southeast Queensland. So the majority of the population of Queensland is located in the Southeast corner. So you sort of draw a dotted line around Sunshine Coast and then out west to Toowoomba and then all the way down the coast to the Gold Coast and with Brisbane in the middle, and there's sort of a circle they call the Southeast corner. Well, Townsville's got about, so I think it's got about 90,000 people at last count. So it's not an outback town by any means, but at the same time, it certainly isn't a big city. So I'm not sure actually how many people are there in the town you live in, Vic? - It's about a nine square mile town and there's 14,000 people. - Wow, okay. - It's a pretty small community. - Yeah, okay, fair enough. Yeah, my immediate area, I live in and around the Caboolture area, and that which is just north of Brisbane. And that area is around about 35,000 people, but we're an outlying area of Brisbane. Technically, we're not Brisbane, we're our own township, locality, whatever. But yeah, I get frustrated, you know, because you've got townships, locality, states. But anyhow, whatever. The point is that 90,000 people is nothing to sneeze at. So, you know, not sure why you'd sneeze. - That's a good-sized crowd. - Yeah, it is. It is, absolutely. And that puts a different complexion on things because you don't have a- you've got plenty of accommodation. So, when we were up there, the company I was working for rented a house and it was called the company name house. Right. And yeah, you do- go back through my LinkedIn and figure out who that was. It's you know, I'm not trying to hide anything, but whatever. Company name house. So, anyhow. And then, when the group of people got to be about nine or ten people, they rented a second house, which fortunately was right next door So, and these are just normal suburban houses, but that's where we would stay. And it was a little bit like a camp, but for the other part of the time, I was staying at hotels and motels, whatever was available at the time. Yeah. Anyway, but different experience because you could walk out the door and or you could jump in a car and drive and get take away for dinner. You know, you had easy access to the internet. The camp where I'm at, it's 3G service only on your mobile if you want internet. And you know, and the reception is very crowded because everyone else has got the same idea. So, it's hideously slow and difficult. Anyway, alright. So, that's some of the details of my background anyway. So, I've done wastewater treatment plants, water treatment plants, pipelines, and most recently a gas compression facility is what I'm currently looking at. and all of these are site-based locations. And the whole idea, the whole concept, the sales pitch of Fly In, Fly Out is, you can have your cake and eat it too, which is we will pay you good money and you can go out there for the week, you can do your job and then come home to your, you know, loving family and enjoy all of the comforts of the big city and whatever else. And I've simply found that to be complete BS. Certainly. I'm sorry, but there's no other way for me to say it. You know, honestly, that is the sales pitch and there is a reason that people get paid more money to go way out west. Sorry, there's a song I keep on going about it. Way out west where the rain don't fall. And when I was out there, the rain fell, so never mind that. But yeah, anyway, so way out west. Yeah, they pay you extra and it's- I used to refer to as pain in the - I'm going to ask location pay. So because you're in a pain in the neck, sorry, it's probably a little bit more in line with this podcast, but anyway, annoying location pay, gee, that's really watered down now, but anyway. So the problem is that they pay you because they know that you're in a horrible location and that you're not going to necessarily enjoy that experience and that's why you're paid more. 'Cause they have to attract you out from the city, from the bright lights. Sure. Compensation just for the inconvenience. Exactly, exactly. And that's nice and the money is nice, but then after a while you start to realize that it's not such a great deal. So, alright. Here are some of the problems. And I realize that a lot of this has to do with relationships. And honestly, I guess it's a bit touchy-feely, but you know what? It's the sort of thing that the reason I want to talk about this is because not only is has this been a very big refresher for me as in... I'll talk about that in a minute. It's been... I sat at the mess hall and I was having my dinner, minding my own business as you do. When I say minding my own business, eavesdropping of course and other conversations. That's probably not a gentlemanly thing to do, but hey. where they were talking loudly. So I was sitting in a mess hall and having my my dinner and I was overhearing another table and there were a bunch of, it was a mixture of mechanical guys, sparkies and so on and they were going around the table because one guy had, a younger guy, I had no idea how old he was, just younger guy, I suspect mid-20s early 20s, had announced that he'd set a date and he was getting married. I'm like oh yeah that's sort of nice you know so it sounds like a nice thing and it's at that point that one of the older guys on the table decided to you know pour some water on that he's a bit of a jerk to be perfectly honest by then saying that in every crowd no kidding right and so he's like yeah well married three times and the next guy it's sort of like says yeah divorced last year next guy yeah divorced other guy nope never married. Other guys said, hey, I'm too young, I'm not getting married. But you go around the table and there was a consistent story which was it was a relationship disaster, you know. Some of these guys had been in the industry and I say the industry, the construction industry, remote construction industry for the better part of their careers. And it got me thinking, well, okay, I went through something similar when I was working in Townsville with my marriage. And I think that it's something that people don't warn you about. And maybe it's something, maybe people, it occurs to you. Maybe it occurs to you in the back of your head, but then you see the dollar signs, the big dollar sign carrot in front of your face. And you're like, "You know what? I need the money." So, what do you do? Do you go for it? Do you not? I don't know what the final advice is. I guess I'll get to that. But when I was in Townsville, I was on a couple of different projects where I was there for a week, I'd come home for the weekends, I'd go back the following week. Sometimes I would have a week's break. And in other times I was the relief person. So for example, when we were doing Horseshoe Bay, sewage treatment plant, which was based on Magnetic Island. And Magnetic Island is beautiful place. Don't misunderstand, but it is island lifestyle. That is to say everything shuts at five o'clock, and nothing's open on a weekend. There is a completely different pace to that lifestyle. And it's great for the first few weeks. But then after that, you're like, okay, no internet, no TV, no- - Nothing to do. - Nothing. And this is years ago, back when mobile phone reception was patchy as well on that out there, there were parts of the site itself was a dead spot. There was literally, you learned the area, there was a mound next to the entrance gate where if you stood on the mound, you would get one bar of signal and you could make a phone call. So, you could see everyone, you'd see this group of guys up on the mound and they're like, you could never have a private phone call unless, yeah, it was like lunch, if it was everyone was working and you'd like ducked out, you know. Yeah. It was rough, right? So, at that time, it was on and off and my wife, we'd had our third child and so, we had a five, a four, sorry, no, hang on. It was a five, a three and a, well, technically zero year old to one year old during that period roughly. And she was handling all of this by herself and it was really causing a lot of stress because, you know, ordinarily, I'd be there to help out. Yeah, you You know, it's like I'd be there to help out normally, but I was away for a week at a time. And, you know, it would start out, day one would be okay. You know, it would be, yeah, you know, kids being kids. We're doing okay. You know, day two, it would become, okay, this is really not going well. There's this thing you said you were going to do before you left and you didn't do it. It's really annoying. It's a man thing, the man thing, got to do the man, the man thing, whatever that might be, you know, insert, you know, whether it's the mowing or fixing a hole in the wall or whatever the heck it is. you know insert man task here kind of thing and then you hear about that for the next few days and how it's progressively getting harder and harder to take and to the point at which you know now the house is a mess and i don't care and it got really really really bad towards the end and it put a lot of strain on my marriage to the point at which it was one of the key reasons why i left that company it was the only way out because the contracts continued to be on the next big project that we got up there was a water pipeline 'cause one project would lead to the next. So, you do a project, you do a good job, it gives you a good reputation, then people tend to wanna keep using you. So, that was what was happening, it was a snowball. And we didn't win every project up there, of course, there's a lot of infrastructure spending in the area due to the population growth at the time. But the point was that it was another two years at least of more work up there. And I just decided that my marriage meant more to me than the job. So, I changed companies, things went back to normal. So when I went back out, when I've now been out West again, I've been revisiting this all over again. So the relationships piece, I cannot, you know, I cannot overstate it enough. I can't stress that enough, that it is a huge deal. I mean, you think no matter how solid and tight you think your relationship is, you think that it can handle it. Some relationships can, you know, maybe, maybe there are some people that can get on, you know, when they're apart, it's okay. You know, maybe if it's, maybe it's a young kids thing, you know, like when the kids are older, little bit more self-sufficient. I don't know, but certainly in my situation and a lot of situations that I've come across and you know, it does not seem to be, it's a relationship killer. And there's an expression that they say all the time, they say this is a young man's game. You know, you want to get in construction, it's a young man's game. I don't think it's meant to be gender, you know, I mean, it's not meant to be a gender thing, you know, like it could be a young woman's game, I suppose. It just means, you know, footloose and fancy free, right? You can come and go as you please, you've got no attachments. And guys just, you know, historically have been in that scenario. - Yeah, well, like you said, when you're looking at that money, I think it's really easy probably to underestimate the impact that it's gonna have. - Absolutely. And the thing is that it's gonna get a little bit more serious in a minute too, but the truth is that the money, People will chase the money and think that that's all that matters or that's the main thing that matters or they'll go out there and they'll think, "I need the money, I'm doing this for my family" Okay, and that's BS, I'm sorry, but generally that's BS There may be a handful of cases where you have no other choice, this is the only way that you can make money to survive, to support your family If that's the case, I suppose, then that's, you know, that's okay But you know what, most of the time I've seen and my experiences, there are always other options It's just that this is an easier option. - Yeah. - One of the other ideas that's kicked around, one of the other sayings that's kicked around in mining industry in particular, is that it's easier to get into the mining industry than it is to get out of it. Because once you get into it and you get used to having that extra money, it's hard to go back to a city job that's 15, 20% less or more. In some cases, I mean, I was, when I was a student, was working out at the coal mine at Mara. Dragline operator at that point was on 120 grand a year. And that was, oh, nearly, that was 20 years ago, but you know, that's, that, well, that, back then, even then, even now that's a lot of money, but back then that was a, that was a huge amount of money. And the graduate salary for an engineer at that point, the average median starting salary was 40,000. And this, this guy's driving a dragline and he's getting, you know, three times that figure. and driving a drag line didn't require a degree, it just required some training. Some of it was hazard pay, of course, 'cause you pick up, you scoop up a big boulder, put on the top of the overburden hill, rolls down the side of the hill, theoretically, and whacks into the side of the drag line, it could kill you. Of course, statistically, that's actually happened maybe once or twice in 150 years of using drag lines. So is it a big risk? You're far more likely that you're going to get run over, you know, crossing the street. But yeah, irrespective, that's a lot of money, and people are drawn by that money. So, and then they have trouble getting out because it's like, well, okay, now I'm out here. And I've seen some of this, it's heartbreaking some of it because people get stuck in this cycle and that leads to the next one I'm gonna talk about this is where it gets a little bit heavy. But actually, you know what, before we get heavy, let's talk about our sponsor for this episode, which is not heavy at all, they're fantastic. And that is, they are ManyTricks. 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Thank you once again to Many Tricks for sponsoring the show. Okay, this is where it gets heavy, Vic. - Okay. - Gonna talk about suicide. - Ooh, that is heavy. - Yeah. It's a tough topic, it's a difficult topic, but the truth is that statistics, there are lies, damn lies in statistics, I get that. In fact, I used to be a statistician in one of my previous jobs. However, the reality is that although I do not know, did not know this particular individual personally, the word gets around that an employee of one of the subcontractors on one of the sites, you know, committed suicide, you know, a few months ago. And no, I didn't know them. However, it's the sort of thing that word gets around. And in Australia, at least, and I can't speak for the rest of the world, but in Australia, fly-in, fly-out workers have twice the national average suicide rate. The problem, of course, is that the workforce is predominantly men, and men have a higher suicide rate, at least in this country anyway. So, you end up with quite a compounding because the majority of being men on site, young men usually, about, I don't know, maybe 50%. I don't have the exact demographic and I'm sure it changes from project to project. But it got me thinking about why that would happen. Why would it be such a difficult thing to, why would you want to take your own life after working in a situation like this? And I think a lot of people's look and this is going to be difficult to generalize but people take their lives for all sorts of reasons and honestly most of them come back to a feeling of being trapped or of having diminished or eliminated worth of contribution. I would think isolation and loneliness too probably. Absolutely right. So from the point point of view of people that get trapped out there, I wanted to explore three of those because that's something that I have witnessed firsthand and to some extent, although nowhere near as much as other people and I don't want to say that I've spent more time out on site than anyone else, that is not true because the longest swing that I've ever done was seven days and there are sites out there that do 28 days on, nine days off and two of those days off, two of those nine days off is spent traveling. So, you really only get seven days off. Now, that's rough. And if that's bad, think about offshore oil platforms. It costs a lot of money to get people on and off those platforms. Helicopters go out, you know, and they come back, you know, once a month, maybe once every two or three months, you know, in emergency situations, that's different. But in terms of regular rotation, three and and six month swings are commonplace. Now that's hard. And I've never done anything like that. So all I'm doing is looking at this based on the people that I've met and some of my own feelings on the subject, I suppose. The truth is that I've met people out there that spent time out there on site and they have all this disposable income, the younger people. So they say, okay, I'm gonna go and buy the latest car. So they buy top of the line, fully spec'd out, $100,000 car, you know, and you go into the car park and you're, you drive in and you're, you know, big four wheel drive, 'cause that's, you know, my issue. And then you see the young Sparkies and there's a row of, well, in this country anyway, HSV Holden Commodores, you know, Holden Monaro, Utes or, you know, Ford, you know, expensive, you know, cars, but, you know, very, very much Aussie kind of cars, but still, you don't see the Mercs and the BMWs. That's more of a, in Australia, there's more of a, I don't know, middle-aged, older sort of a demographic for those. But the younger guys, they go for the HSV Utes and the high-powered V8s and that sort of thing. 100,000, $120,000 cars. Brand spanking new, middle of a coal, you know, coal everywhere, you know, dusty, dirty, and there's these beautiful brand new cars, not a month or two old. But the thing is, you know, they still have so much money. So what do they do? They have no family, but there's nothing to do. So they go and they drink, you know, that's what they do. That's all they do after hours. Like I came in to work a few times and there are a bunch of them and I was still, they were still drunk from the night before. This is the middle of the week. Yeah, the it was getting to them. They had all this money. They had nothing to do with it. So what are you going to do? - Okay. Anyway, so there's that. If you have a family and you do the whole rotation thing, what they call it, sorry, I think I've called it a swing without explaining what that means. A rotation is, the terminology they use over here is a swing so they'll say, "Okay, I've got 21 days in my swing." So, and the amount of time you spend on site is measured by the number of swings that you've done. So, "Okay, this is your third swing, your fourth swing, "or your fifth swing in a row." sort of swing is that I it's a two week on two week off it's a three it's a three on one and that and I'll often abbreviate three and one two and two that sort of thing so anyway so the other thing is of course you're under financial stress so you go and take a job fly-in fly-out and when you're out there you're doing this because your family needs the money so you know you got married you got a few kids yeah they earn the money you pay the mortgage and and things are looking good from the money point of view, but because you're separated from your partner, the wheels start to fall off the relationship and suddenly they up and leave or there's other issues and suddenly it feels like all you're doing out there is you're being a paycheck, you're providing a paycheck for them 'cause you're disconnected from them. And that's how I've felt. I felt very, very disconnected from my family when I've been away. And it's terrible. And I can see how that would drive people to that sort of an end. I can see that. I think that it's not talked about. Why not? I don't know why not. It should be. Anyway. - Definitely. - I mean, I'll tell you one thing though, FaceTime helps. I FaceTime with my kids every night, sometimes multiple times. Yes, the 3G connection was dodgy, but you know what? Just seeing their face as well as hearing their voice made a huge difference. It's never the same as pressing. It was never the same as pressing the flesh, of course. It never will be. And again, I use that terminology as one of those things, you know, it's like, oh dear, pressing the flesh. - It's better than nothing. - Oh yeah, absolutely. But yeah, and that's the great thing is that when you can see them and you can sort of, they nod and the lag's not too bad these days. I remember trying out video chatting years ago back, oh God, 10 years ago, it was terrible. These 120 by 120 pixel, 160 by 160 pixel, tiny little pixelated, you could barely make out that it was a person. And it was like, I don't know, one frame a minute. Okay, maybe not one frame a minute, but it was terrible. (laughing) You know, and it's like, it was just, the lag was horrible, but now at least-- - More like a slideshow. - Yeah, exactly, I'm looking at a slideshow. Anyway, it made it a lot easier with FaceTime, there's no question. So every night I would talk to my kids and my wife of course, multiple times every day. And that helped, helped a lot. But being back out there again, I had flashbacks to Townsville and everything that, and all the stress that that caused at that time. And that's been hard because a lot of that, and that was six years ago, seven years ago, But the feelings are just still there, you know. So, it's the sort of thing that I have to be very careful with managing. Okay, so the last reason that I could come up with, and this is to do with it being trapped, is the imprisonment. Because if you think about it, there's a lot of a- there's a feeling of that isolation that you mentioned. That isolation, you know, you may as well be in a prison because you can't leave. Like, for example, when you're on offshore oil platform, you're 100 miles away or more from- What are you going to do, swim to the shore? You're not going to walk out and quit. No, it's like, that's it. I've had enough. I'll just go and hide on the other side of the platform for five minutes, because that's about as far as I can go. Or if I'm out at a remote site like I'm at at the moment, you know, it's a half an hour drive to the nearest town and it's a four and a half hour drive home. Now, that's not too bad in the grand scheme of things, because if you've got a vehicle, you can do that. The company I currently work for, however, says no, you need to fly because driving is dangerous. So, yeah, if you fly in, fly out, then you've essentially got two flights a day that you can catch or one flight a day, depending on the day of the week. So, I don't think they do the flights on the weekends. So, you know, and that's an issue. So, what do you do? You're stuck there until the next flight. Now, when I was working in Townsville, it was worse than that because the company that I was working for was not a mining company. Mining companies tend to have a little bit more disposable cash because, well, it's a lucrative business to be in. But when you're working for in the public sector, doing water and wastewater treatment plants, water pipelines, money is far more tight. So when you go, you go for keeps. You go for a longer period of time. You have the economy airfares and the economy airfares, you don't change them 'cause if you do a cost of fortune and that all affects the bottom line profit the project. So, every person realizes this and they say, okay, well, I will go for the economy flight. When's your flight booked for? It's booked for Friday afternoon at this time if you, and that's it, you can't get out in the early hour. You're stuck there till there. You know, I don't want to play this up like I went through some kind of horrible hardship because honestly, it wasn't like that exactly, you know, for me. And there are people out there that have gone through a lot worse, but I can absolutely understand how it can feel like imprisonment because you're stuck there and you're like, well, I'm stuck here on the swing for another 20 days before my flight home. I'm stuck here, I can't leave. No matter how much I want to, I can't. And you look around, you're surrounded by bushland, you're surrounded by ocean, you're surrounded by desert. There's nothing, you know. Yeah. Well, and this sounds to me very much like one of those situations where those of us that are on the outside tend to look at people, oh, you're just a whiner. It's just work. You'll be fine. just whatever and it's something that you probably just really don't completely understand or even begin to try and understand it till you're actually in the position. Absolutely right and this is the thing is, you know, I've heard it all. I've heard the whole, you know, the favorite one I hear, the throwaway line is "man up". It's like, well, yeah, sure. Okay, should I tell my family to man up as well while we're at it? They're affected too. Hey, kids. Yeah, helpful advice from old person over here. Man up. Anyway, it's just... Yeah. It goes over really well with the wife, I'm sure. Yeah, man up, sweetheart. Yes. No, no, it doesn't work. So, here's the thing. People look at a building in downtown and I think they see a building. They don't see the scaffolding, they don't see the site sheds, they don't see the high visibility work wear, the skid lids, the hard hats, the, you know, steel cap boots, they don't see that. All they see is the finished building. Maybe they see it when it's under construction, but they see it, but they don't see it. You know, they walk past it, it's like, oh, construction again, right? But when it's finished, they just see the building. And it's even worse when it's remote work, when it's fly in, fly out. People don't see... All they see is the light bulb turning on. They don't see all of the people that have built these machines, these coal mines, these gas compression plants, they don't see any of that. It's all out of sight, out of mind. They don't see the people that build them. They don't know what goes into building them. They don't know the cost of building them. And I just mean dollar cost. I mean, human cost of building this stuff. All they see is the light bulb, flick the switch. Yeah, exactly. They don't see that. And I'm not saying, I don't, I'm not saying that that is, that is a failing. it's just a fact. But see what but when I see when I see these things I can't help but think of all of the people that have put in you know have sacrificed all of these things yeah and and fair enough that they got paid for it no one twisted their arm and said you shall go out there yeah this is a free country well I say free it's mostly free in certain aspects but you know what no one's holding a gun to their head no one's twisting their arm or shoving them out to site, it's a choice. But what bugs me is that people understand the trade-offs of that choice, and I don't think that they do. When I got into engineering, I didn't understand any of this. No one ever explained any of it to me. And playing with this stuff is cool, don't get me wrong. Walking around these plants, playing around with these PLCs, programming them, testing them, making these things work, integrating them, you know, watching the pump station fire up and start, pumping out 800 liters a second of, and dosing systems working for people's drinking water and all that sort of stuff. It's very, very satisfying. But when it's remote work, there's a bunch of extra things that we've talked about on this episode that people don't think about. They don't know about it until they go out and they find out the hard way. And maybe that's the reason I wanted to do this and to talk about is because no one talks about it. And there is a downside and there is a risk. And it's not all about the money. It shouldn't ever be all about the money, but especially in this case. So, I mean, if you are a younger engineer or if you are looking to get involved, you know, even from an IT point of view, 'cause I know there's a lot of people in software and education listen to this, to listen to the show, but you know, there are always opportunities for remote work. You know, I mean, there's opportunities even for doctors, you know, 'cause, you know, they need doctors out there when people get sick, people get sick out there. So, you know, all of these different disciplines will consider remote work, but do they know of, understand all the risks, trade-offs and so on. So that's the first half of this episode. And I also wanna talk a little bit about some of the realities of working, particularly on these sites, just quickly beyond that, just some of the more basic stuff. - 'Cause I don't wanna end on such a heavy note, basically. (laughing) One of the things that having swings on site is that the complication it adds is that people, you can't have one person as a role. So there can't be a one site superintendent or one site lead electrician. That doesn't work because that person's only there for two weeks, then they're gone for two weeks. Or yeah, in the current roster that we've got for most people on the project I'm on. but on a roster on a previous project, it was 28 on nine days off. So what you had is you had a three week overlap. So you'd have the responsibility would be shared between two people and then the other person would cover the other person when they were off swing, if that makes sense. - Gotcha. - So, but that creates a problem because you have this problem with handover or changeover. And on the current project I'm on, they have Wednesday is quote unquote changeover day. Changeover day is where people come in and say, Right, here's everything that's happened in the last two weeks, and they run and catch a plane and say, see you later. Bye, your problem now. Don't, you know, I'm gone. Ha ha, see you next swing, maybe. And that creates a massive problem because when you got one person working on a project, imagine you're doing your programming away, right? And you've got another program that's helping you and you've got to hand over your code where it's at at the end of two weeks and say, there you go, over to you. You disappear for two weeks, come back and hope that they've moved it forward. How much of that time do you reckon they're gonna spend coming up to speed with everything you've done? It's gonna take days. And that's a problem, it's a big problem because that's lost time, lost efficiency and that's money, lost money. So what do you do, right? So change over is a big problem But it's not just that as well. It's a safety problem at the end of your swing. Because when you're at the end of your swing, what are you thinking about? You think about going home. That's all you're thinking about. - You lose focus. - Exactly. And that's when accidents happen, you know? And as a result of this, they have to just knuckle down on safety like you would not believe. They are so safety focused on the sites that I've been on. Don't get me wrong, I think that's fantastic. But the reason that I think that they need to do it is because of this change over this rotation, the fly in, fly out mentality. You know, if you don't buckle down on it really hard, people will make mistakes, people will get hurt, and people will die. And this is what happens on some of these construction sites, people get killed. And if you look at some of the statistics, it's not surprising, the majority of fatalities will happen on the fringe side of the swing. Either you're just starting or you're just about to finish. So during that happy period in the middle, you're on the ball, you're on the game, you're doing a good job. Whereas if you're out there permanently, if you lived there and it wasn't fly in, fly out, those problems do not apply. Mind you, there's a different problem, there's the Monday and the Friday syndrome, which is kind of a similar concept, but nevermind. So it's an issue. Okay, so there's the rotating workforces thing. There's the loss of efficiency. But in terms of actually working on these sites, another thing people don't realize is you have to wear all the personal protective equipment. Now, I honestly have talked about this previously on episode 13, safety, safety everywhere. So if you're interested in this sort of thing, then please have a listen to that. There's a few other little bits I wanna touch on that are specific to the site that I'm working on at the moment that I think are worth just quickly bringing up. So first of all, this is a gas compression plant. So it's got hydrocarbons. And what's the one thing that hydrocarbons do when you light a match, right? Yeah yeah boom bang exactly bang singe. Leave the nice crater in the ground not good so you got to be very very careful so. At these particular sites I have exclusion zones such that if there is a lake then ambient air will essentially reduce the concentration of the hydrocarbons to the point at which they will not they will not ignite. So that critical point at which they say okay well here's the fence line once you. Cross that fence line you are now within the plant and a whole new set of rules applies the problem of course is that. You know two way radios are in a unique communication right so there's two methods of communication how do you communicate you need to a radio to a race got a battery in a batteries technically well there an ignition source. Because they can get too hot, they can fail, break down, they can cause a spark and that's bad. So they have special accredited two-way radios that are what they call EX rated. So in other words they have got additional layers of protection to prevent any sparking, arcing and so on and so forth. They'll use older technology batteries meaning they won't have lithium-ion batteries in them because lithium-ion batteries are far more volatile. Yeah and these will be and they're They're tested regularly, but they are not gonna let your iPhone on site. They're not gonna let your Android smartphone, any modern phone has a lithium ion battery in it. They're not gonna let your laptop on anything with a battery, no cameras, nothing. In fact, there's a box at the gate and you have to put your stuff in that box. That's if you're trusting. If you're like me and you don't trust people, well, you put it in your bag back at the back in the site shed. Because I mean you open up this box and there's you know $20,000 worth and I'm not joking $20,000 worth of electronics equipment. Mind you, it's a small site and if anyone did flog it, you'd probably find them before they left site. But even so, you know, I'm not taking that chance. Thank you very much with my with my iPhone 5S. I'm far too attached to it, surgically attached in some cases. That's probably not a healthy thing. Is it ever a problem with people not taking that serious and trying to sneak their devices in? Yes, it is a problem. The site that I'm working on at the moment is in the warm-up phase or well the early transition phase such that it's only a new rule so they're going to be relaxed about it for a little while. It's still under commissioning which is the only reason I'm out there is because I'm witnessing commissioning. Yes, I'm a witness. I'm a looker not a doer in this case, which is a bit, it's unusual for me and it's happening more as I'm getting further along in my career is that I used to be the doer now I'm the observer and that's okay. I get to be the cranky old guy saying, "You're doing that wrong" or something like that. I don't know. I don't actually talk like that but although actually maybe I should, no I won't. Anyway, okay so people do slip up and there will be a grace period but once the grace period expires people are on notice that they will be dismissed from site and if there's multiple infractions across multiple sites they'll be dismissed from the company because they have to be taking this stuff seriously it's the sort of thing that the guy that comes onto site with a damaged phone walks in there doesn't know the rules or doesn't think the rules apply to them or doesn't care about the rules and all the dominoes will just line up that day where there is a very small leak and one seal somewhere, they'll walk past that area, boom. You know. And they're not the only one that'll pay that price. Exactly. You can't take chances like that. You just can't. So it's a very different environment from the name that I've ever worked in before, and you have to take it seriously. So there's that. But the other safety equipment they're big on and that I've had on had previously, that I didn't talk about too much is safety glasses. And when you've got a high pressure gas leak or previously when I worked at the Standall Power Station, high pressure steam, then that can obviously cause significant eye damage almost instantly. I mean, it'll happen faster than you can blink. You know, the reflex to blink is not quick enough to stop that from damaging your eye. And even then your eyelid may not be strong enough to keep that air pressure out from penetrating your eyeball and destroying your eyes. So having safety rated, non-shatter safety glasses is absolutely crucial. And what sucks for me is, of course, I have terrible eyesight, so I need to have custom glasses made or I have to have fit overs. In winter, fit overs are not a problem, but in summer, they're horrible because they trap all of the perspiration, they fog up because what I have to do is I have to wrap around your face and literally touch the sides of your face and they have to completely encapsulate your eyes and eye sockets in order to be, you know, useful. Effective, yeah. Yeah, to be effective. Exactly. So, honestly, at this point in time, I have been wearing fit-overs, but it's winter over here so that's good, but I'm going to have to get some prescription safety glasses at some point and, you know, they're expensive, unfortunately, but that's the cost of doing business. Mind you, it's good now that they have that, 'cause 10 years ago, 15 years ago, that was not even an option. There were no such things. If you want to do that, the other option, of course, is to wear contact lenses and to wear standard safety glasses, of course. Of course, then they've got the usual suspects, hearing protection, like the plugs and some, which I've talked about previously, hard hats, steel cap boots, of course, to stop your toes getting crushed in case something falls on them. Yeah, and of course, the usual PPE. So long sleeve shirt, long pants, made out of cotton or flame-retardant materials with high visibility stripes. Again, already talked about this on episode 13. So go back and listen to that if you're interested. So you've got to have all of these things before you can set foot on these sites. You've got to have the induction to tell you where everything is, where the exits are. And in sites where you've got dangerous chemicals, you have to be aware of the wind direction. So when you, typically in most locations, you will have two prevailing wind patterns. You'll have morning and evening. Not always, obviously, if there's storm activity about, but it's critically important that you understand the prevailing wind direction. And on sites like this, because of course, our hydrocarbons and when you've got nitrogen on site, nitrogen in large concentrations will displace oxygen. And as a result, you can actually suffocate. So what you need to be aware of is the direction the wind is blowing, because if there's an evacuation, you need to get out of that site, outside the fenced area, and you need to sit in, oh, sorry, sit, stand, mingle, whatever in one of the evacuation areas. And those evacuation areas need to be upwind of wherever the plant is, depending on the wind direction. So for this, there's usually three, but I'm not sure whether or not you can get away with two. I've been on one place that only had two evacuation locations and there have to be multiple windsocks that are up and the windsocks show you the prevailing wind direction. - Yeah. - So of course, all of this good stuff changes day by day. So what they have on these sites, and it's very common in the construction industry, is something called a pre-start. And a pre-start is the meeting that people have before work actually begins. So you show up on site at stupid o'clock, and I do mean stupid o'clock, and don't ask me why. I actually did a bit of research into this, and I still, after 20 years, have no idea why everyone starts at six in the morning in the construction industry. Someone knows, please tell me. I wanna know why. It's just the way it's done. So typically in the construction industry, if you're working locally, you'll work six till three, so 6 a.m. to 3 p.m. But if you're working out at remote sites because you've got nowhere else to go, great, I'll go off at 3 p.m. and I'll sit back at the camp. Why? Well, I may as well work till five or six or seven, whatever, right? Of course, there's rules and the rules stipulate you can't be there more than I think it's 14 hours straight. So as long as it's within those rules And people will work 12 to 14 hour days when they're out on these swings because there's nothing else to do but work. Anyway, so the point you get at site at what? 5.30 in the morning at this site I'm working at, last few weeks and next week, next few weeks. So it's 5.30 a.m. start and the pre-start meeting is at 6.30. So that gives you an hour, just under an hour to get organized. Then everyone goes together to the pre-start and the pre-start meetings, you go through the list of activities for the day. So everyone walks around section by section and says, right, we're gonna be working in this part of the plant today. This is what we're gonna be undertaking so that everyone else knows, okay, they're gonna be maintaining this bit, that area is cordoned off, you can't go over there and so on. And they run through the list of all the things you're gonna do that day and say, okay, well, don't do this, don't do that and so on and so forth. Okay, cool, lovely. And it's a great opportunity as well for people to bring up issues. And of course, to talk about prevailing wind direction weather conditions and that sort of stuff and one of the other funny things that they've started doing in recent years that they didn't used to do is do exercises. Yeah. Did they do that where you work? Yeah we have a start of shift meeting that we call stand up and they always end it with stretches. Yeah but did okay so not drawing attention to our collective ages But in the past, have you seen the thing, this is a more recent thing? This is the first place I've ever worked that did that, yeah. Yeah. Okay. So, from my point of view, also the first. And I've been- the last major construction job where I was working on site that time of day was only four years ago prior to this one. In fact, yeah, where I attended a pre-start and no, there were no stretches. So, I think it's a great idea, don't get me wrong, but it just paint an image in your mind of 40 or 50, you know, surly looking blokes doing stretches and exercises at 6.30 in the morning. It's not- It is not pretty. Do not take a photograph or video, please. Anyway, it's terrible. Anyway, never mind that. So, yeah, I honestly, I think that the pre-starts are conceptually a great idea. The problem that I have is that so many people score on to that first hour. They get to site, they go and make a coffee, they stick it around the coffee machine or the water cooler, they catch up on emails. They don't spend the time to actually plan out what they're doing for the day. And I went to one of the pre starts last week that snuck in my mind. And it's like, so what's up for group blah? And their answer was, well, we think we might look at that, but we haven't caught up with such and such, so we're not sure. That's like, okay, well, you've just kind of defeated the purpose of like contributing. So, next time, either do your work beforehand or shut up. I mean, what's the point? You know, the whole point of the pre-start, unless, of course, you're only going to the pre-start for the warm-up exercises. Yeah, I mean, assuming you actually want to get more out of it, you should probably think it through first. So, I find that it works well so long as people care and do that prep, but some people don't and that makes it less effective. Anyway, so yeah, and honestly, I didn't have too much more else I wanted to add. I guess if I wanted to sort of wrap it up on any one note, I guess I'd have to say that there's lots of little things that you aren't told that you learn when you go to these sorts of sites. And working in the industry, you get exposed to some really awesome equipment, and it's a lot of fun, making this stuff work, troubleshooting it. It is fun and I enjoy it and maybe that's why I'm still doing it. But there's a lot of things people don't tell you about how it affects your relationships, about how all the different ins and outs of things that you have to wear. And in the middle of summer, all that PPE is terribly hot, you know, and heat stress is a big problem. You know, people, you know, like fatigue, heat fatigue and so on, you got to keep your eye on it. And there's all these extra layers of safety and you got to be mindful of all these things and it's not something that they teach you they don't teach you this at university they don't tell you any of it you know and they don't you don't learn it seems any other way than by going out there and learning it so if anyone has a listen to this episode and they now have a better idea hopefully of what it's like working in a fly out fly out fly in fly out drive in drive out situation in different kinds of of these sorts of sites maybe then that can help inform them if they ever want to pursue a career in that unless of course I've just convinced everyone that it's a really really bad idea because it's also quite possible that that's all I've achieved so anyhow so will you be signing up for a fly-in fly-out job at any point Vic? Probably not. Probably not okay but I probably wouldn't have before either so well there you go I like being home yeah believe me so do I so do I if you want to talk more about this you reach me on twitter at John Chigi and check out my writing at tech distortion comm if you'd like to send me feedback please use a feedback form on the website that's where you'll also find show notes for the episode under podcasts pragmatic you can follow pragmatic show on Twitter to see show announcements and other related materials like when we're going live for example. I'd like to thank my co-host Vic Hudson. What's the best way for people to get in touch with you Vic? They can follow me on Twitter @vichudson1. Do you make any apps perchance? I do make some apps. Most of them are in a project stage and haven't been released yet but I do have one in the store called Moneypilot. It's a personal finance manager. - Fantastic. All right, cool. Lovely. I'd also like to thank ManyTricks for sponsoring the show today. If you're looking for some Mac software that can do ManyTricks, remember to specifically visit this URL, manytricks, all one word, .com/pragmatic, for more information about their amazingly useful apps and use a discount code pragmatic25, that's pragmatic, the word, and 25, the numbers, for 25% off the total price of your order. hurry it's only for a limited time. Thanks again for listening everybody and please stick around for the Q&A after the show. Thanks again Vic. No problem it was fun. [MUSIC PLAYING] (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [MUSIC PLAYING] (upbeat music) (upbeat music) [MUSIC] Yeah, okay, so interesting point from rn_ in the chat room regarding being an introvert and an extrovert. Absolutely, I like that. Yeah, and being an introvert, I think you're right actually, that that would make it a lot easier. I am an introvert. It may sound odd. I've got a podcast and I talk and you know, thousands of people listen to me talk every week, which is still crazy to me, but whatever. I am generally an introvert. I do keep myself to myself. Yeah, whereas extroverts, I can see that causing issues. So, in the chat room suggests extroverts caused a lot of social friction because there weren't enough new people. I can sort of, I can see how that would be an issue. And his or her background, they worked a civilian job in a conflict zone, was the way they described it in the chat room. So yeah, it's similar kinds of pressures, I imagine. So being introverted, I think definitely would be a benefit. But honestly, from my point of view, it's still rough from the relationship perspective, irrespective of whether you're an introvert or an extrovert, but I guess it would impact on the people that are around you. So yeah, and blue_ points out, yes, that's true. Being able to give a presentation is different from being introverted, actually, but that's true, I suppose. It is a different social, different skill set, I suppose. Well, and it's even easier for us as podcasters behind a microphone because you're not interacting with that. I mean, you've got your chat room, but in general, you're not interacting with large groups of people or random strange people. So it's more of a one-way relationship for the most part. It's you talking out and you don't have to deal with input. Cool. Yeah, no, you're right, Vic. You're absolutely right. And I... yeah, being able to stand up in front of a crowd, something I haven't really had too many problems with. First 10 seconds, but then after that I'm fine. And I don't get the whole picturing the audience naked thing what the hell is that all about. I don't know I would say this so I don't usually get nervous podcasting but public speaking that's probably one of my worst nightmares. So is that why you've been apprehensive about doing the live thing. Yeah. Okay we're still live now you know the people just heard that. Yeah. They're listening to you right now like this. I understand. You do okay all right. I do. Is that helping or not? It's not helping, is it? No, I think I'm okay with this. I was nervous about going into it because I had never tried it before, but I think I'm okay with this. I think for me the worst part is just people looking back at me. Ah, yeah, fine. And yeah, I can remember in school having to do presentations and public speaking and getting up in front of people and people staring back at me with, I don't know what they're thinking, but I remember thinking, what do you want from me? Yeah, that's it. it now i have this thing that i that when i'm doing when i'm presenting or um yeah or lecturing slash teaching whatever the heck i'm doing so i do i've done a lot of training in my job and uh a lot of tutorials and that sort of thing uh has been a lot of the presentation stuff that i do and when i see the audience sort of nodding off i'll i'll i'll sort of stop talking and just wait and see how long it takes for the people that are drifting off and uh just to see how long it takes them to snap out of it. Every now and then I'll just say something really, really loud like, "Hey, how's it going? Who's still awake?" That's something like that. Because, you know, if you're- if I'm going to stand up there and talk, you're damn well going to listen. And it's gotten harder in recent years because of course, smartphones, you know, it's like people look down at their damn phones and they're not looking at you. And it's a little bit demoralizing, especially when people- when you're putting on- putting a lot of effort to a presentation, they show up and you do not actually get much of a response for them. It is like, yeah. And blue_ in the chat room has just been typing away while I have been prattling on saying that talking to one person and looking at them in the eye sort of, it is a method of connecting with them, I guess is the way I would describe that, is that once you connect with that person like you're talking with them, you tend to can maintain their- You tend to maintain their attention, I think, longer. Unless, of course, they know you, and which point they may just like, yeah, yeah, yeah, John, whatever. Cheers. I can break eye contact whenever I want. But I think once you maintain eye contact with strangers, for example, that you're giving a presentation to, they feel more connected, more obligated to continue that eye contact or to continue paying attention because they're like, oh, he's got his eye on me. Yeah, it was engagement. Yeah, exactly. It was funny, I watched, I went to, because you know, when you're in a relationship, you often do things that you wouldn't otherwise ordinarily do, such as go to The Boy From Oz, which was a musical with the version, I went to a Boy From Oz, there were a few that did a tour and one of them was with Hugh Jackman, who was, of course, Wolverine, as well as miscellaneous other roles he's played. Anyway, and at one point during the performance early on, he said, you know, he was fortunate that he had a mentor early on his career on stage that taught him how to connect with every member of the audience. And he did something that was quite extraordinary. He looked around this, there must have been, you know, 100,000 people in this, a lot of people in this massive auditorium. And his gaze just, it's like moved all around the entire audience, but in such a way that it looked like he was looking right at you for a few moments. Now, how the hell he achieved that and actually took in the whole audience in a period of what? I don't know, like 30 seconds, 60 seconds was just incredible. Just weird. I couldn't believe it. But he pulled it off and it worked. And yeah I felt that that that weird connection so man that sounds a bit creepy but anyway. Heh.
Duration 1 hour, 8 minutes and 29 seconds Direct Download
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Vic Hudson

Vic Hudson

Vic is the host of the App Story Podcast and is the developer behind Money Pilot for iOS.

John Chidgey

John Chidgey

John is an Electrical, Instrumentation and Control Systems Engineer, software developer, podcaster, vocal actor and runs TechDistortion and the Engineered Network. John is a Chartered Professional Engineer in both Electrical Engineering and Information, Telecommunications and Electronics Engineering (ITEE) and a semi-regular conference speaker.

John has produced and appeared on many podcasts including Pragmatic and Causality and is available for hire for Vocal Acting or advertising. He has experience and interest in HMI Design, Alarm Management, Cyber-security and Root Cause Analysis.

You can find him on the Fediverse and on Twitter.