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The Guardian: More than half of North Sea oil rigs fail safety checks

The industry has lost the regulator’s trust

Unions call for offenders to be named and shamed

Terry Macalister
Thursday November 22 2007

The safety regime at Britain’s North Sea oil operators was condemned yesterday in a report by the Health and Safety Executive. The industry had lost the trust of the regulator as a result of the failings uncovered by the three-year study, according to its authors.

Inspections revealed that almost 60% of North Sea oil platforms had problems that oil companies should have addressed, according to the HSE’s report.

Judith Hackett, chair of the Health and Safety Commission, which had overall responsibility for the study, warned that individual companies could be “named and shamed” if standards were not improved at a time when oil had reached almost $100 a barrel and operators were enjoying high profits.

The trade unions said the report confirmed that some operators were putting their workforce at risk, backing complaints made by offshore workers for the past five years.

No companies are named in the report, much to the frustration of the unions. But Shell is one of those that has been handed a large number of HSE “improvement notices” in recent years and been criticised by its own workforce, although the group itself denies that safety is not top of its agenda.

The HSE’s study, which covers nearly 100 rigs and platforms, concluded that senior managers inside the oil industry were “not giving ongoing maintenance sufficient priority”.

The report added: “There is a poor understanding across the industry of the potential impact of degraded, non-safety-critical plant and utility systems on safety-critical elements in the event of a major accident.”

Graham Tran, regional officer of the Unite union, said the report indicated that there were a number of “bad players” who were putting lives at risk for the sake of a barrel of oil.

“Oil companies make huge profits; there is no excuse for falling short on safety,” he said. “Oil companies must implement the proper procedures and make the necessary upgrades to these installations immediately. Otherwise it’s time to name and shame the bad players and have them removed from the North Sea.”

The results of a large number of inspections by HSE staff were graded on a “traffic light” system under which the physical state of the facilities was graded with a green light if all was well, amber if there were isolated failures or incomplete safety systems and red if there were major failings or non-compliance with safety regulations. Only 42% of platforms received the green light, with 42% receiving amber lights and 16% red, meaning that 58% failed to meet the standards demanded by the HSE.

Hackett said the regulator could not trust the oil industry to rectify the problems without supervision. “There has been a lack of leadership and that is one of the things that has got to change,” she said. “We will be closely monitoring the industry to ensure that it raises its standards.”

Malcolm Webb, chief executive of the lobby group Oil & Gas UK, said no one in the industry was in any doubt about the importance of safety and more than £3bn had been spent on this area.

“However, the report highlights that there is work still to be done and that in some areas we are not yet where we need to be,” he said. “We are committed to continuous improvement in this area and believe that the combination of individual company efforts and industry initiatives has already put us on the right track.”Â and its sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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