Ryan Crighton, 1st January 2012
LAWYERS who represented the victims of Piper Alpha say oil firms need to do more to prevent a similar disaster striking again.
Thompsons Solicitors, Scotland’s biggest personal injury firm, has hit out after a series of high-profile safety alerts in the North Sea in the past year.
Senior partner Syd Smith acted for Piper Alpha victims and their families following the devastating explosionin 1988 which killed 167 men.
Last night he voiced fears that not enough was being done to prevent further tragedy.
Among the 2011 incidents was a blast warning at Piper Alpha’s former sister-platform – Claymore – which suffered five serious leaks between May and June.
Mr Smith said: “Piper Alpha was a horrific event that could have been avoided. It must never be allowed to happen again.
“It is encouraging that the Health and Safety Executive is rooting out companies that fail to meet health and safety standards, but these reports clearly highlight the need for oil companies to take oil rig health and safety seriously.
“To get lasting improvements we need to promote a safety culture and encourage workers to be extra eyes and ears in the workplace.
“Workers might feel reluctant to be whistleblowers, but highlighting health and safety breaches in this way saves lives. Health and safety measures are not an optional extra, they are vital to prevent the devastating loss of life and injuries that occur too often on our rigs.
“It is both concerning and unacceptable that this still happens on our rigs.”
The HSE shut down Talisman’s Claymore platform in August over fears that not enough was being done to prevent an explosion.
The prohibition notice served on the firm said the leaks, between May and June, showed the firm had not taken proper measures “to prevent fire and explosion”.
It accused Talisman of not having in place an effective combination of engineering, procedural and management controls to prevent accidental leaks of flammable substances. Talisman has since said it is fully committed to the cross-industry initiative to reduce unintentional releases by 50% by 2013.
Earlier this year the European Union announced plans to seize legislative control of the oil and gas industry.
Energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger said the likelihood of a major accident remained “unacceptably high” after BP’s Gulf of Mexico disaster in 2010 and that a new safety regime was needed.
Under draft plans revealed in Brussels in October, the EU would set the rules governing safety in the North Sea and how those rules were met.
They include proposals to make companies prepare detailed major hazard reports outlining how they would tackle emergencies – before they are given permission to drill.
Information on all spills would be made available to the public, and licensing laws would be tightened to ensure firms had the technical and financial capability to explore.
Responding to Mr Smith’s comments last night, industry body Oil and Gas UK said no offshore accident or incident was acceptable.
Health and safety director Robert Paterson said: “The oil and gas industry strives continuously for improvement – however top-class health and safety performance can only be achieved through effective workforce engagement. That is why the safety of the offshore workforce is a top priority and engagement with the workforce and trade unions through offshore safety committees, safety representative and onshore networks is so important.
“Offshore safety has been positively transformed since Piper Alpha and, in terms of non-fatal accidents, the offshore oil and gas industry has a better safety record than the public sector, retail sector and general manufacturing industry.”
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