The man who led the inquiry into the Piper Alpha disaster has told a conference looking at offshore safety that companies must view the bigger picture in protecting staff.
Speakers at the opening sessions of the three-day Piper 25 conference, marking the 25th anniversary of the disaster which killed 167 offshore workers, included inquiry leader Lord Cullen, Health and Safety Executive chairwoman Judith Hackitt and RMT union representative Jake Molloy.
The event aims to bring together people from across the oil and gas industry to reflect on the lessons learned from the tragedy, review how far offshore safety has evolved since and reinforce the industry’s commitment to continuous improvement.
In his opening speech, Lord Cullen said firms could not afford to see safety as an “organisational bumper sticker”. He highlighted the BP’s Gulf of Mexico oil spill in 2010 as an example of what can happen when bosses take a narrow view of safety rather seeing the larger “process safety” picture.
The senior Scottish judge said BP seemed to have had a blind spot when it came to process safety, instead of putting it at the heart of its core values.
He said the world had changed for oil and gas firms in the 25 years since the Piper Alpha disaster, with challenges arising from ageing infrastructure, new technology and harsher working environments as companies seek hydrocarbons further afield – often employing a more international and mobile workforce.
Lord Cullen praised the increased involvement of offshore workers and their role in generating new ideas through safety representatives.
But safety concerns must be brought to the attention of management without fear of recrimination, he said, adding that merely meeting minimum safety standards was not enough.
A systematic focus on safety was essential in order to identify weaknesses and guarantee a better understanding of risks from the board room to the drilling rig, he said.
Every worker must feel responsible for safety offshore and managers should never “forget to be afraid”, he added.