Article added to Shell Brent Scandal archive
From OILC – The Offshore Union Latest News and Safety Alerts
18 July 2005
OILC welcomes the news that the Lord Advocate has opted to over rule the decision of the Procurator Fiscal’s Office and stage a Fatal Accident Inquiry into the Brent Bravo deaths.
We appreciate that the staging of this Inquiry will be an extremely difficult time for the families of Sean McCue and Keith Moncrieff. However, we hope it will bring final closure for them whilst answering the many questions that still surround the tragic events of September 11th 2003.
The OILC’s regular publication Blowout – scheduled for release later this week – carries an article entitled “A Million Reasons for an Inquiry”. This article (see below) sets out just some of the reasons why an Inquiry should be held. In the article we suggest it would be appropriate so as to gauge how far the industry has improved since the last major Inquiry, that of Lord Cullen. Coming only a few days after the announcement that Lord Cullen was retiring, the news this Inquiry is to be staged appears all the more appropriate.
See Blowout page 12 for the article reproduced here:
A MILLION REASONS FOR AN INQUIRY
On the 27th of April 2005, Shell UK was fined £1 million at Stonehaven Sheriff Court after pleading guilty to 3 breaches of health and safety legislation. Yes we know it’s been widely reported that the fine was £900,000, and that is what Shell will pay. However, the fine was actually £1 million, initially, it was subsequently reduced by 10% after the Sheriff took into account Shell’s cooperation with the authorities and the fact they had plead guilty and accepted liability. A discount for ‘Good behaviour’ it might be suggested.
To ‘Joe Public’ it appears on the face of it that justice has been done. Shell have turned up in court and accepted full responsibility for the deaths of the two lads on Brent Bravo in September 2003. They’ve paid what appears to be a pretty hefty fine and they have assured the Court that systems are now in place to prevent recurrence. The Procurator Fiscals office has secured a ‘result’, with a prosecution and record fine, and the HSE have shown their worth as it was their investigations that brought the whole thing about. No loose ends, everybody has done their bit, time to move on? Not quite – there’s a lingering bad taste about all of this.
It’s not the level of the fine that concerns us, after all, how much can you fine a corporation that earns a million pounds an hour before you can say justice has been served? Its’ answers we want, and the term ‘we’ shouldn’t be taken to mean just OILC. The families of Sean McCue and Keith Moncrieff deserve more. They should be told how and why their loved ones perished in the circumstances they did. Beyond the families there is the offshore workforce, and that’s the entire offshore population who remain in the dark about the causes of this tragedy. As this article heads to the publisher, not even the Safety Committee on Brent Bravo have all the answers. And what about the public, aren’t they entitled to hear how ‘big oil’ operates the plant and equipment used to provide their energy needs?
We published our assessment of the tragedy in Blowout 71, which you can access on our web site. The article was titled “Cheap at half the price” and one paragraph sums up our opinion of events:
A series of systematic failures set the scene for the deaths of these two young men. A dysfunctional safety management system, maladministration of the verification scheme, management refusal to countenance legitimate workforce safety concerns, HSE’s preference for ‘persuasion’ where tougher sanctions could have been more effective, the cohort of disempowered and disillusioned safety representatives [..] all converged to leave the workforce naked and defenceless in the face of management determination to, yet again, cut costs using ill-considered methods.”
Shell’s legal team claimed in mitigation that the events which caused the tragedy were essentially ‘unforeseeable’. But for many offshore workers and for OILC this defence does not wash. Sure, it’s widely accepted that three valves failed, allowing gas into a line that had a temporary patch on it, and that something like 2.5 tonnes of gas escaped from the patched pipeline rapidly rendering the men unconscious. But why?
Some workers in Brent and on other Shell installations are of the view that Shell and their main contractors are keen to deflect opinions like those expressed in our “Cheap at half the price” article. Some workers think that instead, the employers want to focus on ‘behaviours’ and in particular ‘beliefs and values’. This was a subject Shell management touched on with OILC, as senior managers found it difficult to comprehend why the two lads had stayed on site when gas was escaping. But wasn’t it Shell and Wood Group who instilled the beliefs and values? Wasn’t the priority always to prevent a shutdown, as productivity had to be maintained? It now appears to some that as the ‘beliefs and values’ didn’t work in the employers favour on this occasion, that shouldn’t suggest the ‘corporate message’ is wrong, it’s just the workforce aren’t interpreting it properly. So is it the behaviour of the workforce we have to get right, or is it the maintenance of plant and equipment?
After the event it took only a couple of hours to strip out the patched spool and replace it with new. The failed valves likewise were stripped out for HSE testing and replaced with new. Why wasn’t this done earlier?
Shell admitted to breaching health and safety legislation between July 2002 and September 2003. In March 2003 OILC made a formal complaint to the HSE, claiming that proposed cuts in maintenance coupled with existing backlogs of maintenance was a recipe for disaster. The HSE spent 3,000 hours investigating our complaint, (that’s 3,000 hours at over £150 per hour) and decided there was no need for enforcement action. Shell could carry on as planned, provided they were able to demonstrate improvements in several areas, however, there was no imminent risk to personnel. Three weeks later the two young men were killed.
The above paragraph has upset many at HSE who feel we are accusing them of failing to prevent the tragedy. We are not. We are simply stating the facts. We don’t know why the patched pipe and passing valves weren’t picked up. Maybe Shell kept this information from the HSE? We simply do not know and neither do the families, the offshore workforce, or the public. There are as many questions as there are pounds paid in Shell’s fine, which is why there has to be a Fatal Accident Inquiry. That said; there are many who would argue a public inquiry might be more appropriate, as it might assess how much we have improved since the last ‘public inquiry’ – Cullen?