New Norms of the North (Slope)

June 2nd 2020
By: Carrie Whitfield

On the North Slope, we were already used to doing things a little differently before COVID came along. Safer, smarter, and more sanitary was our norm. Even still, we’ve stepped it up for COVID.

Dining halls now quiet enough that you rely on your nose to tell you that lunch is being served. The normal hustle and bustle and catching up with one’s crew as to how their morning went, lulled down to a few forks, knives and pans occasionally clinking together in the kitchen area.

There aren’t many left to notice the change in pace, as most residents have been asked to eat in their rooms and the rest have been sent home. The North Slope is a bit of a ghost town currently. Those that have worked there during Christmas or New Year’s are familiar with this feeling. Only skeleton crews remain for many companies. When asked how long this new norm might go on, some employees regretfully mention, “It’s not just COVID, we don’t know when oil prices will climb again.”

We previously required the use of hand sanitizer, or gloves, to enter our chow areas or even our spike rooms. (Spike rooms are little Seven-Elevens where all the food is free 24 hours a day, so as you can imagine, they get plenty of visitors.) This rule still exists along with some extras but now requires you to wear gloves, a mask and use hand sanitizer.

On some planes you are now required to wear a mask, snacks are no longer served (until masks are no longer worn) and your temperature is checked by clinicians at the airport in Anchorage. As well, you are required to check and log your temperature for 2 full weeks prior to traveling to the North Slope. Make sure to have this log on hand, as the clinician at the airport will check this log as well.

In camp, some of the changes have consisted of, as mentioned earlier, being asked to eat in your room. If not able then one person per table is still allowed in many dining rooms. All items, including items to put on salads, salads themselves, and any other items that used to be presented buffet style, are all now packed separately in to-go containers. Even the apples in the spike rooms are individually wrapped.

There are quarantine areas set up in several camps across the slope. If you aren’t feeling well, you are required to report and quarantine yourself until your test results are received. If you test positive, you are sent home immediately.

In general, other changes for some companies include less, or no, in person safety meetings. Many companies are choosing to use technology to avoid gathering the masses each week. Toolbox talks that are still occurring, are requiring attendees to sit or stand 6′ apart, and you’ll want to make sure you preplan and communicate your journeys even more than normal as almost everywhere you might have simply shown up to previously, will now expect a call ahead of time to inform them that you are coming. This is partially due to the fact that many locations now allow only one person at a time, such as warehouses and pickup windows at parts counters.

Slopers, thank you for taking care of yourselves, each other, and for helping keep Alaska’s economy going.

About Carrie Whitfield

Carrie Whitfield joins ASA with 12 years of experience supporting Alaska’s oil and gas industry, both on and off the North Slope. Since 2009, she has specialized in construction and operations health, safety and environmental training development and delivery, as well as compliance-database administration and project-turnover coordination. Carrie holds a Construction Health and Safety Technologist (CHST) certification and other training certifications. Prior North Slope experience includes field safety on Point Thomson, Skid 50, various pipeline-renewal projects and construction-turnover coordination.

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