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ABERDEEN PRESS & JOURNAL: HSE CHIEFS FACE QUIZ OVER PLATFORMS’ FIRE SAFETY SYSTEMS

08:50 – 28 November 2007

Health and safety bosses will be challenged in the Commons today over the state of offshore fire safety systems following two fires within three days.

The second fire, which broke out early yesterday on Shell’s North Cormorant platform, 109 miles north-east of Shetland, was contained quickly by the fire protection system. The blaze was extinguished within 15 minutes of it breaking out at 12.42am, and the platform returned to normal status, a company spokesman said last night.

No one was hurt but the Health and Safety Executive was informed, and a Shell team was flying out to investigate.

Concerns were raised that it followed so quickly from Sunday’s fire on Thistle Alpha, 120 miles north-east of Shetland. That took more than two hours to put out.

Aberdeen South Labour MP Anne Begg is to raise the issue at today’s meeting of the Commons work and pensions committee, which will be taking evidence from Health and Safety Commission chairwoman Judith Hackitt and Health and Safety Executive chief executive Geoffrey Podger.

Ms Hackitt presided at last week’s launch in Aberdeen of a 71-page briefing compiled after a three-year HSE investigation raised questions about the state of fire safety systems. It said only half the “deluge” systems used to put out major fires passed tests.

Ms Hackitt said at the time there “can be no mistaking our message to those in the boardrooms of oil and gas offshore companies” about the need to deal with “wide variations in performance”.

Miss Begg said: “I will certainly be asking questions about the deluge systems in the wake of this report and these fires. It may be that these were different types of fire and therefore one was more difficult to extinguish. However, if Sunday’s fire took longer to control because an extinguish system was not working properly, that would be a very serious matter.”

She will also call at the meeting – arranged before Sunday’s Thistle Alpha emergency – for the executive to “name and shame” the North Sea installations and the companies whose performance has given cause for concern.

She said: “I shall be asking why the report did not identify platforms where safety was not up to standard and making it clear I believe it would be better to name and shame the companies concerned. In the light of the report last week followed by the fire on Sunday, I will be asking if HSE believe operators have become complacent about safety.”

Jake Molloy, general secretary of the offshore industry liaison committee, urged Miss Begg to ask questions to ensure systems designed to contain and extinguish fires in the quickest possible time functioned properly.

Amicus northern organiser Graham Tran welcomed Miss Begg’s intervention and urged her to press the case for naming “bad operators and bad companies” with a poor record offshore.

An HSE spokesman said it was unusual for two fires to occur within so short a period but they did occasionally happen when bearings became overheated.
 
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