Skip to main content

Research Repository

Advanced Search

Defensive pessimism-like thinking in practice: the (dys)functional strategy for coping with risk uncertainty in the offshore oilfield?

Adams, Nicholas Norman



UK Continental Shelf (UKCS) offshore oilfield drilling is recognised as a high-hazard occupation that occurs in one of the riskiest locations in the world. Dangerous machinery, combustible hydrocarbons, unpredictable weather conditions, rapidly shifting situational factors, rotating crews, and lengthy travel over rough seas by helicopter are just some salient risk-factors. At present, little scholarly research explores how regular offshore workers develop cognitive strategies to attempt to cope with ever-present risks. This research draws on an embedded ethnography of a remote offshore oilfield drilling platform in the UK North Sea. The risks of working offshore and the strategies workers developed and employed to deal with continual risk uncertainties were discussed in face-to-face interviews with thirty-five active drilling crew as they laboured on complex well-drilling operations. Notably, defensive pessimism (DP)-like thinking was recurrently exhibited, with many workers recounting detailed narratives of mental role-play for "worst case" offshore and helicopter travel scenarios. Often, thinking appeared interlinked with strengthening motifs for workers' preparation and planning skills regarding occupational risk possibilities. These strategies are presented, as is a discussion of the effects such strategies had upon oilmen. The benefits of growing scholarly conversation surrounding DP-like thinking in practice are highlighted. alongside the methodological application of DP theory for further study surrounding practical development of coping strategies in similar high-risk workspaces.


ADAMS, N.N. [2023]. Defensive pessimism-like thinking in practice: the (dys)functional strategy for coping with risk uncertainty in the offshore oilfield? Journal of risk research [online], Latest Articles. Available from:

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 23, 2023
Online Publication Date Mar 20, 2023
Deposit Date Mar 21, 2023
Publicly Available Date Mar 21, 2023
Journal Journal of risk research
Print ISSN 1366-9877
Electronic ISSN 1466-4461
Publisher Taylor & Francis (Routledge)
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Defensive pessimism; UK North Sea; Offshore drilling; High-risk workplaces; Hazardous workplaces; Coping strategies
Public URL


You might also like

Downloadable Citations