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John Potter has been a scaffolder for 40 years – following in his father’s footsteps. From working on local building sites in the UK, to megaprojects around the world and in the Middle East, it’s been quite a journey. He’s currently working on the Duqm Refinery in Oman.

My father used to be a scaffolder, so either I’ve followed in his footsteps or he’s to blame – I’m not sure which one it is! I’ve been scaffolding since I left school in 1982. You start off working in the scaffolding yard, then you work on the truck delivering and collecting the materials, next you become a labourer and finally a trainee before becoming qualified. I started working for a local company in the town where I am from, mainly on building sites. As I progressed and became a supervisor, I joined a chemical plant where my dad used to work. There were still some of the scaffolders who had worked with him, so it was nice to hear stories of what he was like. I’ve been overseas for more than 20 years now and joined Petrofac in 2015.

The footprint of the Duqm Refinery project is huge. At peak, we had 700 scaffolders in total and three Petrofac supervisors, one Samsung supervisor (as it’s a Joint Venture), and another four supervisors supplied from our subcontractor. Around 2,500 individual scaffolds were erected throughout the project, including specially designed scaffolds on all the main pipe racks and the 186m flare stack.

Our main priority is ensuring we have safe, quality scaffold erected. My role begins with looking at manpower and hiring subcontractors – we assess them before we go to site to make sure we are getting the right quality and calibre of people to erect the scaffold. Prior to any subcontractors been permitted to carry out any scaffolding works on the project, I focus on the documentation side reviewing, commenting and finally approving all site scaffolding procedures. I also concentrate on safety and the day-to-day running of the site. We follow British standards which we must implement no matter where we are in the world. Safe working at height is our main focus – the guys have got to be 100% tied off with a full body harness attached to a safe anchor point, so if they do slip, they can’t fall to the ground. We also ensure safe manual handling on site – safeguarding that scaffolders are not throwing materials up or down and all safe lifting and lowering methods are implemented.

I take safety very seriously and I take it to heart, even when it’s not under my remit. When I was doing street work in the UK, I fell six metres without a safety harness after being electrocuted by some overhead power lines. I landed on my back, but luckily, I wasn’t injured. Many years later, on a power station I slipped and fell 100 metres, that time I was wearing a safety harness and if it wasn’t for the harness, I wouldn’t be here today. That’s why I take working at height very passionately – it’s the biggest risk. I know people who have fallen three metres and died. There’s an old poem: I chose to look the other way, and somebody had an accident and passed away. It’s about safety. I can’t walk past.

If something goes wrong, we’ve all failed; if something goes right, then we’ve all won. We’ve got a very good relationship with all the subcontractors, it’s not them and us. We are the scaffolding team for Duqm Refinery. It’s a one team approach and that’s how I always want things to be.

On a project you can have 20 different nationalities and I love meeting people from different backgrounds. Over the duration of the project a lot of them become your friends. The achievement of seeing what we’ve built at the end of the project – that’s the excitement of the job.

I love travelling in the UK and one of my favourite places is Oxford. I love driving down there when I’m on leave – I love my cars too. When I retire, I’d like to move down that way. I also enjoy visiting Whitby, one of my childhood holiday destinations. It’s important to spend time with family and friends and relax. You’ve got to take that time to switch off.


“Safe working at height is our main focus – the guys have got to be 100% tied off with a full body harness attached to a safe anchor point, so if they do slip, they can’t fall to the ground.”



Overhead power line, Sky, Electricity

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