Calls for offshore helicopter inquiry raised at Scottish Trades Union Congress

Super Puma helicopters. PIC: RMT
Super Puma helicopters. PIC: RMT

Workforce concerns around the need for an offshore helicopter inquiry have been raised at the Scottish Trade Union Congress (STUC) in Dundee.

A total of 33 workers and crew have been killed in Super Puma helicopter crashes in the North Sea since 2009, prompting calls for an independent public inquiry.

Earlier this year the Scottish Government said it would not back calls for an inquiry, which would ultimately have to be brought by the Westminster.

Scottish energy minister Paul Wheelhouse said there is already work being carried out within the industry to review safety and an inquiry “would not be helpful”.

Last week, a cross-party group of seven Labour, SNP and Lib Dem MPs tabled a motion calling for Westminster to launch an inquiry.

The Aberdeen Trades Union Council, which includes Unite, has raised an emergency motion at the STUC, backed by RMT, reiterating these calls.

The inquiry would assess whether commercial pressures are having an impact on safety.

The motion states that unions are “dismayed” by the response from Mr Wheelhouse.

In 2014, following a fatal crash off Sumburgh, the UK’s Transport Select Committee claimed there was evidence commercial pressure could be putting safety at risk.

However the Department for Transport refuted this and did not support calls for an inquiry.

The latest fatal crash took place off the coast of Norway in 2016, killing 13 people.

Super Puma helicopters have not returned to operations in the North Sea.

The motion adds that it does not consider fatal accident inquiries (FAI) as a means of “restorative justice” for families affected.

An FAI is yet to be held for the Sumburgh crash in 2013, which can only take place if there is no possibility of criminal prosecution.

RMT general secretary, Mick Cash said: “It is nothing short of a scandal that the Scottish and UK Governments are opposing the public inquiry that is clearly needed to tackle the decline we have seen over the last 10 years in offshore workers’ confidence in the safety of the helicopter transport they are required to travel in.

“Both RMT and Unite support an inquiry, which would cover commercial pressures brought on operators by oil and gas companies and we now have a significant body of cross-party support, including SNP MPs in Westminster, who have added their voices to this important campaign for a just response to the deaths, trauma and growing safety fears of North Sea oil and gas workers and their families.”

A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: “We have given this matter careful and serious consideration, and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has already undertaken a comprehensive review into this matter.

“We found that a public inquiry would not achieve anything beyond the assurances already provided by this review, which culminated in a number of significant changes to increase the safety standards of offshore helicopter flights.”

Scottish energy minister Paul Wheelhouse, said: “The offshore workforce’s concerns on helicopter safety are a shared priority of the highest order.

“While we have no legal or regulatory powers in respect of aviation safety, we have made clear to our industry partners that nothing is more important than ensuring the safety of those who work offshore.

“We are very sympathetic to the underlying concerns of the offshore workforce, and have raised specific issues with employers on their behalf.

“However, we do not believe a public inquiry into helicopter safety would, at this time, add to the significant streams of work being undertaken by the Civil Aviation Authority, Unions, operators and other stakeholders in developing and implementing a range of safety measures to address concerns that have been raised.”