Offshore workers will be encouraged to “blow the whistle” and raise safety fears on offshore oil and gas platforms and drilling rigs under new rules revealed yesterday.
Guidelines agreed by industry body Oil & Gas UK and unions state bosses must now give clear reasons for removing individual contractor employees from installations.
John Taylor, regional organiser, T&G section of the Unite union – referring to the Cullen report following the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 – said the new guidelines could be the “biggest thing since Cullen” for offshore safety.
Workers have previously raised concerns that the process of permanently removing a contractor – also known as “not required back” or NRB – was not transparent enough. They felt this gave employers the opportunity to remove workers who raised safety concerns.
It is estimated that hundreds of NRBs have taken place in the past 30 years in the UK North Sea.
Previous attempts have been made to address the issue but only now have the trade unions provided their backing, although Jake Molloy, regional organiser for the RMT union, said unions had for 20 years offered to work with anybody to resolve the NRB issue. Mr Molloy said: “It is to the common good of both unions and management to remove this spectre.”
Malcolm Webb, chief executive of Oil & Gas UK, said: “While we are only talking about a very small number of cases, we recognise that this emotive issue needed to be rectified by industry.
“We want to leave no doubt that safety issues can be raised by anyone at any time, so even the perception that this was not always the case needed to be dealt with.”
Chris Allen, Oil & Gas UK’s health, safety and environment director, said: “There remain important legal, safety and security reasons as to why an employer must retain the right to decide who has access to its offshore installations. As such, the guidelines recognise the right of the offshore installation manager to remove someone from an installation if that person represents an immediate threat to safety or good order.
“However, the guidelines clearly state this right should not be exercised without justifiable reason or without following the due process.”
Mr Molloy said the move delivered the message from industry that “NRB is no longer tolerable in this day and age”. He said: “This means the guidance should act as a real deterrent to bad practice on the part of individual managers.
“We hope it will encourage greater involvement of workers in the safety agenda, as any perceived fears about NRB should be dispelled.”
Decisions relating to removal will also involve management of the company and the contractor employing the individual concerned.
The guidelines will be effective from March 31 and will be reviewed after 12 months. They apply to contractor personnel only as there are already established rules for offshore installation managers to deal with employees of oil and gas operating companies.