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OILC.Org: Letter from concerned (Shell) offshore workforce: ‘highly confidential’. A cry for help

BLOWOUT magazine: Voice of the offshore worker

Issue 77: 1st Quarter 2008

The Shell offshore staff crisis is reported on pages 6 & 7. In the course of 2007 a catalogue of safety concerns was passed on to the HSE by unions OILC and Amicus acting on behalf of members employed by Shell. The HSE investigated and found the allegations and complaints to be well founded.

Under staffing, overwork and operatives acting beyond their competencies in safety critical processes and the wholly inadequate training regime consisted the bulk of the complaints. Interestingly, some of the issues had been around for a while, years in some cases, but no complaints had previously been made.

When the company turned on its loyal employees they, in turn, and understandably, declined to carry the heavy burden of extra work and responsibilities.

The letter reproduced below was sent to the HSE by a senior Shell offshore operative and marked ‘highly confidential’. A cry for help.

Offshore Safety and Competency concerns.

To understand how this issue has developed over many, many years now, it is key to understand the culture of offshore installation management and expectations of them.

Area competency and workload concerns have long been raised for circa 15 years from the onset of manning reductions. However, manning and competency concerns to supervision
are practically a taboo subject now, dare anybody raise it. It is the expectation felt by supervision and management culture offshore that has meant concerns will not be taken up the line to be addressed by the OIM and certainly not supported by being revealed onshore. It has become customary practice to label any challenge, especially manning, as
negative as well as anything that may jeopardise production for that matter. It is generally understood as a result of this culture that any persistence of this issue can of course manifest itself as negativity and be reflected in ranking, reward and/or future promotion or
indeed removal at the next round. Consequently it has eventually become an apathetic challenge albeit one of grave potential.

It is also crucial to study the bigger picture of manning reductions over the mid to later life of a platform and how they equate to ageing problematic facilities and increased maintenance. Surprisingly during this period the company downsized its inspection department and number of offshore inspectors. Dedicated platform safety officers have also long been removed and the role is given varying degrees of quality time by the medic dependant on qualifications. Perhaps these particular overseeing positions were regarded as a hindrance in nature. The permit coordinator is also long gone as the SS (P) is carrying this as well.

Meanwhile operations numbers, cumulative knowledge & competencyand training have been factored down to alarming levels over this period. Whilst it is understood that inefficiencies and numbers may have been regarded as high it is difficult to comprehend a swing to the extremities illustrated below.

For example, Numbers:
Operator numbers on shift at any one time have gone from a minimum requirement at that time of 2 per area X say 6 areas (12 + 3 quality training) to I per area X 5 areas due to merging (5 techs plus I or 2 training where possible).

Minimum training rules used to be circa 9 months to as much as 15/18 months depending on area complexity before being considered sufficiently competent to operate an area. This is now in the order of 3 trips or, if not possible, encouraged to capture some training
whilst operating another area.

The legacy of an emergency (for want of a better word) training strategy is still loosely in use on at least one platform. It was developed to accelerate trained numbers on paper but it is of a degenerative diluted form. Essentially it required revolving individuals through 3
trips on one area to be competent, then 3 trips on the next area, competent, then 3 on 3rd, 3 on 4th (control room), then back to the 1st area over a year later to operate and train others and so forth.

Knowledge & Competence
(including onset of apprentice profile):
Reference the numbers and training above cumulative knowledge and experience on the plant areas has factored sharply down from a number of highly trained and experienced area technicians at 2 per area to considerably less knowledge and experience covering
1 or often more areas. Young trainees have been running areas and it has also been brought to light that the rules of training and competency assessment are being further eroded.

Fire Team experience and cover.
This is also being stretched and requires scrutiny.

Plant cover during leg visits:
It is regularly the case that only I or 2 technicians, (1 may be a trainee) are covering plant areas when the other half of the team (often the oil and gas techs) are executing tasks or checks down legs.

There are clearly too many deviations offshore whether it is SOPs, clamps, wraps emissions etc. Probably a few more manning deviations are being drafted at the time of writing.

Dismal morale offshore has been captured on the last two or three Shell People Surveys. They clearly reflect the apathetic frustration and exasperation of the offshore technicians long-standing fight to have competency concerns and workload addressed seriously. It also continues to reflect poorly on the OIMs.

On the rare occasion that an open question has been asked, the continued concerns around safety of competent plant coverage, and workload, has been raised by the very few individuals who feel able to speak up. Generally the issue will be pacified again, at best, with a comment of “I will look into it” but most often it will be “my hands are tied”.


Perhaps senior Shell managers should enquire again of their OIMs how long have they knowingly operated their installations with inadequate cover in order to safeguard the no-quibble culture expected of them.

Offshore Shell Operations would welcome a thorough investigation by the HSE of this long-standing offshore management culture and its detrimental effect of suppressing the safety concerns captured in this and other notes.

We do not wish to see another family lose their dearest.

Kind regards on behalf of:
concerned (Shell) offshore workforce. and its also non-profit sister websites,,,,, and are all owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia article.

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