Oil giant TotalEnergies (PAR:TTE) has opened up on its reasons for releasing footage of a major safety incident involving a helicopter in the North Sea during Storm Otto.
In a rare public exchange in hopes of encouraging transparency in safety, the French major conceded “someone could have died” when blades from the helicopter ripped off on the Elgin installation while workers were still on the helideck.
HSE director Mhairi Finnie told the Offshore Energies UK (OEUK) HSE Conference that the industry “cannot let the fear of judgement” prevent transparency on safety, leading to the decision to release CCTV footage of the February 17 incident.
As part of the presentation, Ms Finnie confirmed that greyed out images on the video were two workers trying to secure the aircraft, who “could have died” as the rotors were then sheared off as powerful winds hit the region.
The oil major said it is opening up in hopes of encouraging others in the industry to move towards transparency in HSE lessons.
“We could have kept quiet, we could have dealt with this internally, we could have kept the video to those that saw it within the boardroom and not allowed it to go any wider than that,” Ms Finnie told the conference.
“We cannot let the fear of judgment get in the way of doing the right thing for safety – so we released the footage.”
She went on to add: “I’m sure you can imagine the hard discussions that happened before we did the stand down for safety.”
‘Sitting in shock’
The incident took place on Elgin, 130 miles off Aberdeen, on February 17, as 100 mile per hour winds battered north-east Scotland.
In the immediate aftermath, a committee including TotalEnergies and helicopter company, Offshore Helicopter Services, were viewing the footage “sitting in shock watching what we saw unfold on the CCTV”.
Ms Finnie said it was ultimately a “great leading moment” from the firm’s new UK boss Nicolas Payer that led to the video being released.
“He said to us: ‘Let’s put the footage out there so that our people can see that the risk is real’. So he made the call.
“As an industry, we have to debate and we have to discuss these incidents or we’re never going to learn, and we definitely are not leading.
“So, with agreement from a helicopter operator, who were also clear that they wanted to be transparent about what happened, we quickly brought all our people together in a stand down for safety and we showed them the footage.”
A “stand down for safety” teams meeting was then convened, when the video was shared widely with staff, and subsequently emerged online for the world to see.
The firm recognised the “huge risk to hide the things that don’t go well” and said it hopes releasing the video will improve safety culture more widely.
‘It could have gone horribly wrong’
No one was hurt in the Storm Otto helicopter incident, though it is being investigated by the UK Air Accidents Investigations Branch (AAIB).
Speaking at the OEUK HSE Conference, Ms Finnie was clear that there could have been major consequences.
She said: “Look at what happens in relation to people when that rotor blade snaps, it could have gone horribly wrong and someone could have died.”
The helicopter was shut down on Elgin because a warning light had come on, right before it was about to return to Aberdeen from the platform.
Workers were trying to strap down the vehicle, for fear it would go overboard.
“The helicopter, as you could see from the film, was moving about on deck and there was concern from the crew on board that it was going to go over the side and cause more damage.
“Now, while the crew on the helideck were securing the aircraft, that’s when the rotor blade snapped off. And it flew through the air and it could easily have hit one of them. Fortunately, it didn’t.”
‘Putting this out there. . . can only make everyone more aware of the risk’
Immediate concerns around releasing the video were how the workers involved would feel – and they were consulted before the CCTV was later shared.
TotalEnergies was also aware that its investigation into the Storm Otto helicopter incident “wasn’t complete, so we were concerned we would compromise it by releasing the footage”.
But positive feedback from workers has reinforced it as the right decision.
Ms Finnie said: “They were surprised that we shared the footage. They didn’t expect ourselves to make ourselves vulnerable.
“The respect from (the workforce) for the fact that we did it far outweighed the feeling of fear.
“Putting this is out there for everyone to see, can only make everyone more aware of the risk and it means everyone can learn. I would say that we’ve seen a shift in the way that we now do things at TotalEnergies and that can only improve our safety culture. We want to share difficult stories fast.
“Whilst I hope not to be shared in those stories often, we want to share them quickly.
“Waiting months or years before we’re comfortable to put things out there is no good. I hope that sharing this very new story today will help encourage more of the same.”