Call to fly to Off Shore Oil and Gas Platforms

The caller on the phone introduced himself as a Medic from Woodside Energy. He said the operational health and safety regulations required tobacco smoking to be banned on all company off-shore oil and gas facilities, and later at all on-shore oil and gas refineries.


He had done some research and found I had a reputation in the mining industry for success in assisting clients to quit smoking.He was asking me to go out to the offshore rigs and take all smokers through quit smoking my therapy. 

I had been visiting remote mine sites conducting therapies for some years to assist people overcome tobacco smoking, alcohol drinking problems, anxiety, depression and some phobias too.

At a meeting held at the Woodside Petroleum headquarters in Perth they outlined their plan. First, I needed to qualify in an internationally accredited OPITO Tropical Offshore Emergency Training course. Before I could do the course I was required to pass a tough company medical examination.

Then followed an intense two-day course, which was conducted at IFAP in Fremantle Port. There I was trained in the theory and practical skills to deal with emergency situations on a tropical off shore oil and gas facility.

We learnt to undertake first response firefighting and escape from smoke filled buildings while blind folded. I had previously done similar training at the Country Fire Authority Training Facility at Ballan, in Victoria. 

Then I learnt something new, escaping a rig by helicopter winching. Then came escape on totally enclosed motor propelled survival craft, those white and orange-red bubble boats you see on the side of ships sometimes. Then followed escape by an unpowered inflatable life raft.

I found the experience a little physically exhausting while exhilarating fun. But I was worried about the survival of a helicopter crash into the sea training and escaping a sinking helicopter.

Dressed in overalls, we climbed on board a mock helicopter, and experienced a ‘controlled ditching onto the water’. It was actually a pool inside a massive shed with a crane to lower the helicopter into the water, while we sat inside strapped into our seats.

The water rushed in as it sank below the surface and continued to sink. After what seemed an eternity, safety divers signalled us to escape by removing the rubber seals around the windows, pushing out the glass and swimming to the surface.

Then we were told to return to the helicopter and do it all again. This time they made it more difficult. As the helicopter sank into the water again it turned upside down and began to sink even further, while we were strapped into our seats.

The safety divers signalled us again when we could make our escapes out through the windows, and swim to the surface.

Just as I thought we were finished, we would do it again. But this time it would become even more difficult. As the helicopter sank upside down into the water I was to stay in my seat and wait for the person sitting between me and the window to remove the rubber seal around the glass and push it out to facilitate escape from the sinking craft.

The man next to me was a giant. He was massive. As the helicopter sunk the divers signalled us to escape. The giant did nothing. Perhaps he did not see their signal?

I began to think about pushing past him, but he was too big. I looked around for another window to escape through.Everyone else had already escaped and we were the last in the sinking craft.

I looked back to see the giant ripping the rubber surrounding his window. I decided to wait and follow him out. As I was the last to leave it seemed the helicopter was as deep as it could sink into the pool. I was almost out of breath as I broke the water’s surface. The loud sounds of winches and people laughing greeted me. I was so relieved, and yet I felt exhilarated too, maybe because it was all over.

But it was not over. We were then asked to put on blacked out goggles and do the whole thing again ‘blind’. OMG.

I had not expected to go through an OPITO trial of death, just to assist a few oil and gas rig workers to quit smoking.

I received a photo ID which was required to be sighted before I could take a helicopter flight out to the offshore oil and gas platforms operated by Woodside, and registration as a OPITO graduate.

Departure to Off-Shore Oil Rigs

Having successfully completed my OPITO training I was ready to go offshore to the Woodside oil and gas platforms on the northwest shelf, to conduct Quit Smoking therapies.

On the rigs smokers could only smoke in a disgustingly smelly, dingy little room with no windows or adequate ventilation.

The company arranged 8 trips for me from December 2007 to February 2008 in readiness for the planned March 1st total ban on tobacco smoking.They would fly me from Perth to Karratha by Qantas commercial flights. Then I would board a Bristow charter helicopter to the oil and gas rigs around 100 kilometres offshore.

Upon arriving at the Karratha airport Bristow departure lounge I was asked to present my OPITO ID card, which they photocopied. Then all my baggage was searched, and my mobile-cell phone confiscated. No alcohol, drugs (including medications) or electronic devices are allowed unless they get special prior approval. My baggage and I were then weighed.

Then all my fellow helicopter passengers and I were ushered into a lecture room, where we had a pre-flight health and safety briefing, including a video.

Life jackets and earplugs were issued to each of us as we were guided to the helicopter.

This was to become a familiar procedure over the coming weeks and months, before every flight. Even short five-minute flights from one rig to another, within sight of each other were preceded by the same safety briefing.

For me, everything was a new and exciting experience. I watched the bored faces of the other seasoned, yet disinterested passengers who usually did the same flight four times a month. I was focused, and ready for a helicopter accident at any moment.

I had been in helicopters many times before, but this was going to be the longest flight by far. Some passengers closed their eyes as the engines above roared and the helicopter shook.

Then came lift-off. We headed out to sea over scattered islands, with little beach shacks and boats dotted about on some. Beyond the islands was a huge expanse of tropical sea.

After an hour or so, oilrigs appeared on the horizon. I watched as a speck became larger and larger. As we approached I saw a resupply ship nearby. Later I learned it was also waiting on standby as a rescue ship, in the event an oil and gas rig disaster occurred.

In November 2009, the worst Australian oil disaster occurred further up the same coast when the West Atlas blew-up and caught fire.Sixty-nine workers were safely evacuated before the rig was destroyed, and a massive environmental disaster occurred as oil spread across the sea.

From December 2007 to February 2008 I made 8 visits via helicopter, to the oil and gas platforms operated by Woodside Energy on the North-West Shelf of Western Australia.







Since March 2008 employee’s baggage is searched for contraband, including tobacco, before boarding flights to the off-shore facilities.

‘I am delighted to commend Peter Zapfella for the work he has recently undertaken for Woodside’s offshore facilities. We demanded an exceptional output from Peter on very busy operational areas (upon working oil and gas platforms at sea) . He not only met our expectations, he exceeded them. Peter was very professional in his approach and client focused.’

– HSE Coordinator. Woodside Energy.


In March 2011 I returned to work with around 50 staff at the Woodside operated Karratha Gas Plant who wanted to quit smoking. I was then asked to return to Woodside’s Pluto Project in August 2012, to take another 40-50 through stop smoking advanced hypnosis therapy.

Why did they get continue to ask me back? Because I get great results.

I have conducted on-site quit smoking therapies for Rio Tinto’s mines at Tom Price, Cape Lambert, Port Hedland, Dampier in the Pilbara, and Argyle diamond mine in the Kimberley, as staff quit tobacco smoking, alcohol problems, depression, anxiety, phobias, other addictions and work related limiting beliefs (fear of flying, public speaking etc).

I have also visited gold and salt mines, and industrial sites to conduct advanced NLP/hypnosis in regional Western Australia, Northern territory, Darwin, and Perth. I can visit your business – world wide to assist you and your staff achieve a return on investment of up to 1,500 per cent by using NLP and hypnotherapy to quit tobacco smoking.

“It has been quite a number of years since I used Peters services to help me stop smoking. I literally went from a twenty year, two pack a day smoker to completely stopping after just one session. Obviously, I found Peter to be very effective and I would highly recommend his very professional services”. – Randy Van Poecke. Manager at Barbecue Bazaar.

Randy Van Poecke

(C) Copyright 2010-2019 Peter Zapfella

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