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08:50 – 06 September 2007

Union bosses are demanding a Health and Safety Executive inquiry into oil giant Shell’s North Sea operations.

Graham Tran, regional officer with the Unite union’s Amicus section, and the OILC’s Jake Molloy, say there are gaps in “safety-critical positions” on Shell installations which are up for sale.

The unions are announcing today that they want the HSE to look at Shell’s “management of change processes” and whether the company can meet its statutory safety obligations. But Shell insists that no workers are in danger as a result of its current disposal programme.

It emerged in June that Shell and ExxonMobil were to market their equity stakes in certain northern North Sea assets, which include operated interests in Cormorant Alpha, Cormorant North, Tern, Eider, Kestrel and Pelican, plus non-operated interests in Otter and Hudson.

Unite and the OILC claim that, since the announcement, relations between Shell and its workers on these assets has sunk to the point where there is now an impact on operational safety.

A joint statement from the unions says morale on the Shell installations is at an all-time low and that several key workers have left the company in disgust at the treatment they have received.

The unions say workers wrote to senior managers earlier this week complaining that platform areas were not fully covered by “trained and competent” people, while certain HSE safety critical roles were not fully supported.

“The unions believe that the gaps in these safety-critical positions could be so severe that, in the event of an emergency, staff may be unable to cope,” the statement warns.

It adds: “If this is the situation, then Shell would be considered to be in breach of safety-case requirements.

“It is even reported that on some platforms there is now a lack of suitably trained fire team leaders, which casts doubt on the fire teams’ ability to be effective should an incident occur.”

The call for an investigation coincides with today’s focus on safety at the Offshore Europe event in Aberdeen.

Mr Tran said: “If an investigation supports the concerns of the workforce, I would expect the HSE to shut down Shell’s operations in these areas immediately.”

Mr Molloy said: “Shell’s management appears completely unable to manage people – the workers deserve better.”

Last night a spokeswoman for Shell EP Europe insisted safety was always a priority for the company and even more so during the current disposal programme.

She added: “We have asked personnel to raise any concerns they have and made sure there are enough people in place to ensure operational safety. We are consulting regularly with the workforce.”

The spokeswoman said the company recognised how unsettling the asset sale was for the workforce, but insisted the installations were continuing to operate safely.

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