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Insights James Piling - Offshore inspections and winning the Cyril McCaully Memorial Prize

As part of our #PeopleDriveResults campaign, this week we have caught up with James Piling, A lifting inspection technician and the winner of Cyril McCaully Memorial Prize.

Can you tell us what the Cyril McCaully Memorial Prize is? Did you have any challenges?

The Cyril McCaully Memorial Prize is presented by the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) to international students who achieve the highest grade in each of the six advanced lifting program subjects. I won the  award for the Power Machine Examination.

The program consists of a 40-hour course followed by an assessment. The most challenging component was learning about all the pieces of equipment in detail, how they interact, what needs inspecting and what can go wrong with the individual pieces. I studied the content in-depth over a long period of time to prepare. The timed exam is two hours and 15 minutes, and I can honestly say that I wrote a good two hours and 13 minutes of that.

Can you tell us a bit about your professional background?

I joined AtkinsRéalis in 2013 after signing up for LEEA’s introductory classes at the recommendation that it would be valuable when I was entering the field. I’m grateful for the opportunity to continue my learning and development through trainings while working at AtkinsRéalis .

What do you enjoy about working on the oil platforms?

I like puzzles and games where you need to solve clues. That enjoyment transferred over to my job as a Lifting Inspection Technician; I discover what’s not working the way it should. Most of the time, my team and I don’t find issues, which is good because it means everything is in order. The odd time we do, it’s an affirmation that we are looking in the right places and that we’re making a difference to our safety. We work on three platforms, the closest is 315 km away from the shore. We get to the sites by helicopter or boat. If the weather is bad, a boat ride can take upwards of 14 hours. Because of the remoteness, heaviness of the equipment and the natural environment we are in, many things can go wrong and safety becomes an even more predominant component than on a regular onshore project site, for example.  

Is there a career move you would like to make now that you’ve won the award? 

When I applied for the lifting inspection technician role, I thought it was a good stepping stone for whatever I wanted to do next. I anticipated that I would be in the role for six to nine years. I’m now in my eighth year and it’s become a real passion. The award motivates me to better perform in my job and seek out new challenges. I have the best of both worlds; I spend long periods on the platform and get to be home for longer stretches of time.

What is the coolest thing you work with?

Wire rope is my favourite type of equipment. It’s a machine within itself, a bundle of several wires twisted together.  However, a lot can go wrong with a wire rope especially in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean. It can corrode, get crushed and its core can damage. I perform regular in-depth inspections to see how a wire rope interacts with itself. My investigative nature enjoys finding out why it bends, deteriorates and is in its present condition.

What do you think had the biggest impact on your career development to date?

A few years ago, my team and I started working exclusively on offshore platforms; before that we went back-and-forth from onshore and offshore. The time we spend on the site is now longer, but I like the trade off andI enjoy the free time away.. The switch allowed me to take as many courses within two years that I had in the previous five years. I think it made me a better, more equipped and happier inspector. The work-life balance has made me feel like I’m the best version of myself.

What is the best advice you were ever given? Who was it from?

One of my lifting inspector colleagues, Scott Jenkins, gave me some good advice when I started my career. He said: “If you leave a job site thinking about a call you made on a piece of equipment, then you made the wrong decision. If you’re thinking after work that you’ve accepted a piece that you should have rejected, then you should have rejected it. That’s not a feeling you ever want to have. You don’t want to be thinking about work when you are at home. Don’t be afraid to make the call to reject something if you’re going to think about it later.”

It encouraged me to make empowered, confident decisions.. If I’m not comfortable with a piece of equipment on a job site, I will make the call to remove it.

Tell us one fun fact about yourself.

I play a ton of Dungeons & Dragons in my spare time. Working on an oil rig hasn’t changed who I am fundamentally, I’m a nerd at heart; it’s why I get excited about wire rope so easily!