Energy giant put employees at risk from chemicals

The UK division of French energy giant Total has been told to shape up after it failed to adequately protect employees on one of its North Sea platforms from exposure to harmful substances.

The Health and Safety Executive has issued the company with an improvement notice after an inspection revealed a problem in the sack room – the chemical mixing station – on Alwyn North.

It said the firm had “failed to apply appropriate protection measures” to “adequately control” workers’ exposure to hazardous substances.

It also criticised Total for failing to maintain, examine or test the protection measures in place. The company has until May to comply with the conditions of the notice.

Oil services company KCA Deutag, which is sub-contracted by Total, has also received a notice relating to the same platform.

The HSE said the firm had failed to maintain the ventilation system in the sack room in efficient working order and good repair.

Jake Molloy, general secretary of the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee, said an efficient ventilation system was crucial to avoid respiratory infections.

He added: “You must ensure you have a fully functioning ventilation system so you are not inhaling the residues because they can be very, very harmful.”

A Total spokesman, who issued a statement on behalf of both firms, said extraction equipment was in place, but it was required less frequently because increasing reliance on ready-to-use drilling mud had reduced the need for sack chemicals.

He admitted the system had become “outmoded” and “in need of replacement”, but insisted employees had been assigned “compensatory” respiratory protective equipment and that there had been “no suggestion” of any health risk.

He added: “Where health and safety is concerned, Total is widely recognised as among the leaders in the industry.

“Our safety procedures have been reinforced with the workforce since the HSE visit and the process of design, procurement and installation of new extraction equipment is well under way.”

Meanwhile, Canadian firm Talisman Energy has also been in trouble with the HSE over the valves on its pipeline protection system at the Clyde and Affleck fields.

The HSE acknowledged measures were in place to prevent high-pressure gas from Affleck entering the lower-pressure Clyde network, which could cause a leak. But it said the company had failed to demonstrate how the system would be maintained or how quickly it would work in an emergency.

A Talisman spokesman said the firm had conducted a full investigation into the HSE’s concerns and was “confident” they had been addressed.

“Ongoing testing procedures are being put in place,” he added.