Trade union chiefs said yesterday that offshore workers have “a lot of concern” about North Sea firms’ ability to keep a lid on Covid-19 while increasing crew numbers on platforms.
Jake Molloy, chairman of the Offshore Coordinating Group, a coalition of trade unions, said most rig operators had “absolutely maintained and increased” steward numbers to make sure cleaning regimes in cabins were up to scratch.
But Mr Molloy warned that companies’ desire to increase manning levels to help tackle a growing offshore maintenance backlog would make mitigating the virus “all the more difficult”.
The union boss said he and colleagues were in talks with industry and safety watchdogs to address fears which are “quite rightly” held by workers.
He was speaking after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) accused two energy sector firms of putting crew at “serious risk” of catching Covid-19.
HSE’s inspector claimed manning levels on the JB-115 jack-up barge increased even though it was “obvious” the team of stewards was “not coping” with the cleaning workload.
JB-115 is being used to provide accommodation for a decommissioning project at Spirit Energy’s South Morecambe field in the East Irish Sea.
Crew members are preparing the DP3 and DP4 normally unmanned installations for removal next year.
HSE’s inspection took place shortly after the barge arrived on location.
It served Jack-Up Barge (J-UB), the Dutch firm which owns JB-115, and Spirit Energy with prohibition notices on September 8 and 9.
Spirit Energy said the number of stewards on-board and the frequency of cabin cleaning had been increased and the prohibition notice was lifted soon after it was served.
Neil McCulloch, executive vice president, technical and operated assets at Spirit Energy, said “nothing comes before the safety” of crew members and that the company and its partners had “learned and responded quickly”.
Mr Molloy believes the cleaning issue on JB-115 was an “isolated” one.
But he said a widespread return to cabin sharing, when it comes, meant cleaning and testing would have to be “factored into providing assurances and ensuring risks have been reduced to as low as is reasonably practicable”.
“That’s got to be our goal,” he said, adding: “What’s happening around the country is being replicated offshore. We’ve got to acknowledge that and deal with the concerns the guys quite rightly have.”
Dominic Pritchard, GMB national organiser for offshore, said members had contacted him to express concerns about upmanning and cabin sharing.
Mr Pritchard acknowledged companies were having to walk “a very fine line” between addressing maintenance backlogs and preventing Covid-19 outbreaks.
He urged employers “do their homework and preparation” ahead of mobilisation to keep employees safe.