Alex Salmond used last night’s gala opening of Offshore Europe to pay tribute to the four people who lost their lives in last month’s helicopter crash off Shetland.
The first minister said the deaths of George Allison, Sarah Darnley, Duncan Munro and Gary McCrossan were a “tragic reminder” of the difficult conditions faced everyday by those working offshore.
Speaking at a formal dinner in Aberdeen’s Town House last night, the SNP leader called for companies to put safety at the heart of everything they do as they plan the next 50 years of North Sea oil.
And he backed plans to launch an investigation into the UK’s helicopter safety record – saying that making the industry safer than ever before would be the best tribute to those who died.
Mr Salmond told the audience he hoped the next half-century would yield up to £1.5trillion worth of oil for Scotland, once again advocating the setting up of an oil fund like Norway.
But he said that in looking ahead to the next 50 years, it was “most appropriate” this week to focus on safety
“It is right that the industry should lead a review of helicopter safety, in the wake of the crash in Shetland,” he said.
“That review should consider what lessons we can learn from the approach in other countries.
“For example, research published in 2010 suggested that from 1990 onwards, Norway has had a significantly better record in helicopter safety than the UK – 0.9 fatalities per million passenger hours for Norway, in contrast to 3.1 for the UK.
“Now of course statistics can be misleading – the effect of a small number of major incidents. However it is right to look at practices elsewhere to see if our own can be improved.
“The Scottish Government will do anything we can to facilitate such a review, and to help to implement its findings. That’s the appropriate role for us to play.
“Improvements to safety should be supported by government and underpinned by state regulation. But to succeed fully, they must be led by the industry, in partnership with employees and unions.”
Mr Salmond said that safety is “not an obstacle to a successful industry”, instead describing it as an “essential precondition” for success.
He added: “The Scottish Government is absolutely committed to working together.
“In doing so, we will work with you to achieve the goal set out in Step Change – to make our offshore oil and gas industry the safest in the world.
“That’s the purpose, and the responsibility, that we all share. The events of the last two weeks remind all of us – politicians, the industry, and representative bodies – that it is essential to keep making improvements to safety.
“It is the only way in which this industry will retain long-term commercial viability, environmental credibility and public confidence.
“And it’s the best possible way of paying tribute to those we have lost.”