The Health and Safety Executive yesterday announced it was to target ageing North Sea oil and gas platforms in a new inspection regime.
One union official last night welcomed the move and said many workers claimed the platforms were held together with tape and string.
HSE inspectors will be able to order oil companies to carry out repairs. Penalties – as in any other inspection – could range from improvement notices right through to prosecution.
The HSE said that, after 40 years of oil and gas production in the UK waters, more than half of platforms had exceeded their original design life or soon will.
Many are expected to stay in operation and HSE inspectors are to visit the installations and check safety management plans to ensure that ageing is taken into account.
HSE head of offshore safety Steve Walker said: “The issue of ageing installations is not a new one, and we have been working with the industry to address the risks for several years. We are very clear that, if installations are going to be used beyond their original anticipated design life, then operators need to look to the future and anticipate inevitable consequences. This is a priority for us.
“Ageing offshore installations run the risk of deterioration, which can have serious consequences for installation and asset integrity. This is not acceptable. The safety of 28,000 workers is dependent on systems and structures being in good working order now and in the future.
“We will be seeking evidence and reassurance that operators are properly considering ageing and life extension as a key and distinct part of their asset integrity management plans. The industry and unions are fully behind this programme. They appreciate that well-maintained, safe and efficient plant and equipment are vital to ensure the long-term future of the UK offshore oil and gas industry.”
Jake Molloy, regional spokesman for the RMT union, welcomed news of the inspections.
He added: “This has been coming for some time, it reflects what the offshore workforce has been saying.
“If they are to be believed, all 100-plus manned platforms in UK waters have problems. Walkways and stairs are becoming badly corroded. Lots of guys say their platforms are held together with tape and string.”
Malcolm Webb, chief executive of industry body Oil & Gas UK, said: “We welcome the HSE’s latest inspection programme into ageing offshore installations.
“It is important that we review and reflect on our operations on a regular basis to make sure that our offshore installations continue to be fit for purpose, safe and efficient. As with the previous major inspection programme which ended in 2007, industry will work closely with the HSE throughout this review.
“Inspection programmes such as this are essential in keeping the industry firmly on its goal of operating its assets to the highest possible standard,” he added.