Call reflects industry-wide concern over increasingly dilapidated offshore rigs and installations as well as proposed changes in safety regulation.

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Scottish unions have backed growing calls for a tougher safety regime on increasingly dilapidated and dangerous offshore oil and gas rigs and installations in the North Sea.

In an emergency debate on offshore safety at the STUC annual conference (pictured) in Inverness yesterday, delegates highlighted persistent dangers which have become a daily reality for workers.

Unite regional industrial officer John Taylor said: “Recent incidents like the Elgin and Buzzard platforms highlight the dangers that our offshore members face.

“Now, more than ever, we need a renewed focus on offshore health and safety.

“Trade unions must ensure that health and safety standards are never compromised due to commercial pressures – any risk at all is too high a risk for offshore workers and their families.”

A fire broke out at the weekend on the Buzzard platform. No-one was reported to have been injured, but there is renewed scrutiny of safety regulations offshore following the continuing gas leak from Total’s Elgin platform which led to the emergency evacuation of nearly 240 workers last month.

Official figures covering the last 15 years indicate a 66% reduction in all injuries offshore and a 45% reduction in serious or fatal injuries. However, there is growing concern that current safety regulations may not be able to prevent a major accident.

In 2011, the HSE found that more than half of North Sea installations had reached their expected shelf-life of 20 years – but most are expected to remain operating for the foreseeable future.

The rate of repair work on the ageing infrastructure means there are now frequently more scaffolders working offshore than ‘traditional’ oil industry trades.

In an unusual step, earlier this week, offshore unions and industry bosses jointed voiced their alarm over proposals to hand over safety regulation to the European Union would have ‘a serious detrimental impact on standards of safety and environmental protection’ in the North Sea.

RMT regional organiser, Jake Molloy said: “We see workforce involvement as a fundamental part of improving all-round safety performance in the offshore industry and this is increasingly being recognised by operators and contractors.

“Significant improvements in this vital area have been made with a great deal more still to come but all the good work currently underway could be jeopardised with the application of the EU Regulation.”

Malcolm Webb, chief executive of the industry lobby group, Oil & Gas UK, said: “We fear that far from adding any tangible benefit to the UK’s world class system, moving overall responsibility for offshore safety to the EU, which has absolutely no experience or competence in the area, would undermine our high standards of offshore safety and environmental protection.”

Unions and employers say the proposed new regulation regime would divert substantial resources away from tackling front-line safety, into what they describe as ‘desk-bound paperwork compliance.’


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