A decision will be made this week by the UK’s highest appeal court which could have a significant impact on health and safety offshore.
The long-running legal battle between oil firm Chevron and the Health and Safety Executive began during a routine inspection of a platform in the Captain field of the North Sea in 2013.
Chevron was handed a prohibition notice due to corrosion on stairs on the installation which led to a helipad, which the inspector believed would not be safe for several men to use, particularly in an evacuation.
However, that decision was later overturned by a tribunal – using evidence which was not available at the time to the inspector – which proved the stairs were in fact safe.
The use of that evidence – analysis carried out months later by lab-testing company Evoxa – has become an issue of contention, with a question mark over whether tribunals should be allowed to use evidence which is not available to inspectors at the time of a notice being issued.
In 2016, Scotland’s highest civil court – the Court of Session – ruled in favour of Chevron who said that the tribunal was right to use the new evidence to remove the prohibition which it considered “unnecessary and unreasonable” to remain in place when its factual basis was incorrect.
The tribunal also based its decision on other aspects – the fact the inspector was on the platform for two days and temporary measures put in place at the time to prevent the use of the walkways.
However, HM Inspector of Health and Safety argued that the role of a tribunal should be to review the decision of the inspector, rather than form its own view.
HSE said the use of new evidence which was not available at the time to the inspector would undermine the purpose of the Health and Safety at Work 1974 Act -to prevent workers being exposed to health and safety risks.
The Court of Session agreed that, while an inspector can only form a view “based on his perception of the facts”, an appeal is a “much wider concept”, and whatever competent information available at the time of the tribunal should be used.
This decision has since been again appealed, this time to the UK’s Supreme Court, with a final ruling due on Thursday.
With the court being the last stop in the UK for civil appeals, it will set a precedent on the scope of evidence to be used by future tribunals.
A spokesperson for Chevron said: “We are unable to provide comment on the matter until the Supreme Court issues its verdict.”