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August 16, 2018updated 07 Jul 2020 1:19pm

Disasters like Piper Alpha could reoccur, warns offshore union organiser

The regional organiser of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) Jake Molloy has warned that ‘all the signs’ of fatal incidents such as Piper Alpha, Brent Bravo, and Deepwater Horizon are resurfacing.

By Talal Husseini

The regional organiser of the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) Jake Molloy has warned that ‘all the signs’ of fatal incidents such as Piper Alpha, Brent Bravo, and Deepwater Horizon are resurfacing.

Speaking at the ‘Reflections on Piper Alpha’ conference in Aberdeen this week, hosted by the Offshore Coordinating Group, a consortium of trade unions including RMT and Unite, Molloy accused offshore oil services operators of casting blame on workers after such tragedies occur, instead of initiating preventative measures.

Molloy said: “This ability to stop the job is good, if you’re educated enough, familiar enough with the systems you’re working in. If not, stopping the job is completely worthless. This is something that comes up regularly, here and now.”

Thirty years on from the disaster, which killed 167 people in 1988, Molloy said the investigations criticised workers for failing to act, despite finding no evidence that the workers had sufficient hazard awareness training in the first place.

“Any one of the union reps in the room today in the UK sector will tell you this is becoming the culture of this industry again,” Molloy said at the conference, speaking on the lack of change in the industry.

“All the signs that we saw with Piper, all the signs we saw with Shell in 2003, they’re all coming to the surface again and this is the safety net – ‘you didn’t stop the job, you’ve got the right to stop the job, why didn’t you stop the job?’

“We’ve got to address that and that’s why I say workforce engagement, yes, is absolutely critical but moreover the ability to influence management and have them act on it all the more critical.”

Issues with the physical integrity of offshore platforms have not disappeared in the last 30 years. There has been a series of incidents in the North Sea, including a gas leak at the Elgin platform in 2012, a line rupturing from the Brae Alpha in 2015, and the emergency excavation of the Ninian Southern platform last year due to structural concerns.

Molloy said that proper training and the confidence to report safety concerns is crucial to the development of the global offshore industry.

Other industry bodies such as Oil and Gas UK and Step Change in Safety have held similar conferences this year to promote lessons learned from the Piper Alpha tragedy and prevent another disaster.

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