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Oil rig workers told to slim down to save helicopter fuel

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It's the end of the line for the super-sized rig worker and no one should be too surprised. Transocean has told its more corpulent North Sea staff to slim down because their extra pounds are costing the company too much in helicopter journeys to offshore platforms.

The average weight of an offshore worker has increased by more than 40 lbs in 10 years. Add to that a temporary shortage of helicopters, due to the recent grounding of part of the fleet for safety reasons, and seats are at a premium price. Space is also scarce in lifeboats, forcing companies to spend millions accomodating the greater girth of their staff in space-constrained rescue vessels.

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It's a sensitive matter so Transocean has delegated the weight-loss issue to IHS, a health consultancy, which has the task of helping workers whose waistlines exceed 37 inches to reduce their body mass.

Transocean will, no doubt, get away with the enforced slimming, on the grounds of safety for workers in a hazardous industry. No one wants to find that they have been crowded out of the lifeboat. It is more difficult, however, when the troublesome weight gain is your customers. Transport providers don't want to make paying passengers unwelcome, obviously, but is it fair to ask slim passengers to subsidise the extra fuel needed to lift the obese into the stratosphere?

Fat has for years been a live issue in the budget airline industry, where the increasing bulk of the average customer means burning ever more kerosene to keep the collective body mass airborne. Never knowingly deterred by issues of good taste, Ryanair asked its online customers several years ago to rank a number of cost-saving measures by preference, including charging for toilet paper. The favorite, according to Ryanair, was a "fat tax" on very overweight passengers.

Some airlines ask very large customers to pay for an extra seat, a policy that can spark rows in litigious jurisdictions in America but there should be no shame in asking customers to state their weight when purchasing a ticket online. Insurance companies already require this information, including more delicate issues about health and lifestyle. If you post a letter, its weight and size determines the cost of transport.

Sixty years ago, when planes had propellors, airlines took a robust approach to their customers, including a compulsory weigh-in, to determine where the passenger should sit in the cabin and how much fuel would be required for the journey. Surely, it would be a simple matter at check-in for each passenger to be asked to stand on the scales, with their bag. Those who refused would pay an automatic fuel surcharge. At the very least, it would make the queues more entertaining.

Carl Mortished is a contributor to ROB Insight, the business commentary service available to Globe Unlimited subscribers. Click here for more of his Insights.

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About the Author

Carl Mortished is a Canadian financial journalist and freelance consultant based in the U.K. With a career spanning investment banking, journalism and consulting for global companies, he was for many years a financial writer and columnist for The Times of London. More

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