Piper Alpha: Workers’ lives are still shaped by tragedy

OGUK chief executive Deirdre Michie
OGUK chief executive Deirdre Michie

When the dreadful news about Piper Alpha broke I was in London working as a graduate trainee for Shell’s downstream business.

My then boyfriend, now husband, was about to go offshore for the
first time in his role as a reservoir engineer and, like everyone else, I was absolutely horrified at what was unfolding in the North Sea.

The scale of what I could see on TV was hard to take in – it was almost surreal.

But as news coverage continued and we learned more from colleagues and friends – including those living under the Dyce flightpath who could hear the many helicopters overhead bringing back those who tragically lost their lives – the magnitude and stark reality of what had happened began to sink in.

Three decades on and there is a new generation of offshore workers who were not even born at the time of Piper Alpha – yet their working lives today continue to be shaped by what happened that terrible night.

The disaster led to the ripping up of the offshore rulebook at the time and the introduction of robust goal-setting legislation for the management of major hazards following the thorough and insightful public inquiry led by Lord Cullen.

We were honoured that the man who shaped the world-class safety regime we have today opened our Safety 30 conference that took place last month.

What made it even more significant was that the words of Lord Cullen were also heard by industry’s next generation.

Having people just starting out on their oil and gas careers attending and participating in our conference was vital, because we must keep learning from the past and the present to ensure we keep the focus on safe operations for the future.

Piper Alpha survivor Steve Rae led an extremely powerful session which closed Safety 30 symbolically passing on the baton to industry’s next generation – represented by 2017 Apprentice of the Year Samuel Ash and last year’s Graduate of the Year Joanna Reynolds who were both very inspirational.

In fact, it was Sam who encapsulated so well why we must never forget.

Sam said there were less than 167 people on the platform he works on, and that he struggled to come to terms with the fact that on one single night the equivalent of everyone on his platform died.

Keeping people safe as they work to ensure assets operate effectively and produce oil and gas is key to the way this industry works.

Safe operations are not just a top priority but a core value underpinning how we do business in the UK offshore sector.

Piper Alpha was a watershed moment for our industry and we must never stop learning from it.

We owe it to the fathers, sons, brothers, husbands, partners, friends and colleagues who never made it home as a result of that tragic night.

To follow more of our special Piper Alpha 30th anniversary coverage, click here.