A North Sea union warned last night that the safety of offshore workers could be put at risk by a health and safety restructure – just months before the 25th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster.
Leading industry body Oil & Gas UK has also reacted with “surprise and concern” at the organisational changes planned for the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) offshore safety division (OSD).
The division is to become part of an enlarged energy division under the organisation.
But HSE claimed that, despite the changes, it would be “business as usual”.
Jake Molloy, regional representative of the RMT in Aberdeen, said there had been no official announcement about the move. He said: “We’ve had an explanation from Susan Mackenzie, who’s taking over the new division.
“She talked about the need to utilise resources, strengthen capabilities and create fewer organisational boundaries. I see it more as a dilution of an already-stretched resource.”
RMT said: “Ever since the findings of Lord Cullen’s inquiry into the Piper Alpha disaster, there has been a distinct division of the HSE devoted to the major hazard offshore oil and gas industry.
“The OSD has had a strong influence in shaping and improving the safety performance of this industry and, given recent announcements of major investment and development in the sector, it could reasonably be expected the OSD would continue in that role.
“However, in a move which has surprised not only the trade unions, but the industry itself, the HSE has announced the OSD will become integrated into a newly created energy division.”
Responsibility for safety offshore was transferred from the Department for Energy to the HSE following the Cullen inquiry into Piper Alpha.
RMT general secretary Bob Crow said: “In this year of all years, when we will commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster, the changes being announced by the HSE fly in the face of what Lord Cullen recommended.”
Oil & Gas UK’s health and safety director, Robert Paterson, said: “There has been both surprise and concern expressed widely across the industry about the organisational changes planned for the OSD.
“Oil & Gas UK is exploring how the practicalities of this HSE restructuring could affect the offshore oil and gas industry. It is a priority for the industry that there must remain sound and appropriate regulation that is engaged locally at all levels.”
The HSE said the changes came out of a periodic review of its structure. A spokesman added: “Putting these skills in the same division will enable them to be deployed to best effect. HSE still exists as a single regulatory body to enforce the occupational health and safety in the offshore oil and gas industry, as envisaged by Lord Cullen.”
The North Sea platform Piper Alpha exploded, killing 167 men. The subsequent inquiry, led by senior Scottish judge Lord Cullen, investigated the cause of the disaster.
The inquiry report made 106 recommendations to create a safer UK offshore industry, including the creation of a discrete division of the HSE devoted to offshore safety.
Last night politicians reacted to the restructure plan.
North-east Labour MSP Richard Baker said: “The RMT is right to raise these concerns. Safety offshore should be the top priority of the industry and the Government.”
And Aberdeen Central SNP MSP Kevin Stewart said: “I have major concerns about these cuts proposals.”