By James MacKenzie
Shell has been slammed for management failures and equipment defects by a Scottish Fatal Accident Inquiry (FAI) into the deaths of two workers in the utility leg of the Brent Bravo platform in the UK North Sea on 11 September 2003.
Sean McCue, 22, from Kennoway in Fife, and Keith Moncrieff, aged 45, from Invergowrie, Tayside, died when they were overcome by a large release of hydrocarbon gas.
It was found the accident might have been prevented if the company had acted properly in dealing with a temporary repair on a leaking pipe.
Aberdeen Sheriff Colin Harris said in his FAI determination that the deaths may have been prevented if a temporary repair had been managed and the risk of working inthe leg had been properly assessed.
An emergency shutdown valve failed, as well as two others, allowing oil and gas to travel into the pipeline and leg where the men were working.
Shell has already been fined£900,000 ($1.7 million) at Stonehaven Sheriff Court in Scotland last year after pleading guilty to breaches of sections two and three of the 1974 Health&Safety at Work Act, including failing to carry out a risk assessment on the platform.
The 38-day FAI in Aberdeen, conducted by Harris, took evidence from 61 witnesses.
His long-awaited final determination is a major disappointment to the unions, offshore workers and the relatives of the two dead men who have campaigned for a better UK offshore safety regime.
Harris said during the course of the inquiry it became apparent that evidence relating to the condition of certain valves on the platform might be relevant to the cause of the deaths of the two men, or have contributed to the incident that resulted in their deaths.
However, he added that certain evidence, such as the possible consequences to the structure of the platform, and its crew, of the ignition of the vapour within the utility shaft, while of concern to some of the parties and no doubt of importance to the offshore industry and those who work in it, was “in my opinion more appropriate for consideration at an inquiry of a more general nature”.
Speaking in Upstream on 16 June 2006, former Shell International group auditor Bill Campbell said that during a platform safety management review in 1999 he had been particularly shocked at what he had discovered on Brent Bravo, which was being run with dangerously high levels of risk.
He said he found equipment was being operated in a dangerous condition, vital maintenance was being ignored and that this was covered up.
Campbell had sent his evidence to the Procurator Fiscal’s office in Aberdeen in October 2005 in the hope of getting it heard at the FAI.
However on the advice of the Health&Safety Executive the material was deemed as not relevant to be heard at the inquiry.
Shell said it fully accepted the sheriff’s findings. “In the three years since this tragic incident we have worked hard to understand the root causes of why it happened and have put measures in place to prevent anything like this happening again,” said the company.
“Immediately following the tragedy we initiated a thorough review of all our North Sea offshore installations. With this input and the root cause analysis, we have made significant improvements in our systems, procedures and offshore training programmes. These improvements, some of which were reflected in the sheriff’s determination, have resulted in a safer offshore working environment on Shell’s installations.
“Today, our safety procedures and our physical integrity are demonstrably better: corrosion management and maintenance regimes are more thoroughly managed; a new electronic permit-to-work system is in operation; training for leg entry and the use of breathing equipment is more robust; we are removing all volatile hydrocarbons from platform legs; and have sponsored research into the narcotic effects of hydrocarbon gas, about which the industry knew very little three years ago.
“We are committed to achieving continuous improvement in our safety performance and we have seen positive results in the last few years. However, we fully accept that there is still much we need to do to achieve the safety performance we seek and to meet our goal of zero incidents,” added Shell.