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BP lacked ‘basic safety’ in North Sea before Gulf of Mexico oil spill, HSE investigation finds


BP was subject to an investigation in the North Sea which found new staff were not trained to “basic safety standards” – six months before its Gulf of Mexico accident.

By Rowena Mason
Published: 10:40PM BST 14 Sep 2010

The blaze after the explosion on the Deepwater Horizon oil rig

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) began its inquiry after a complaint by a worker on the Clair rig off the Shetlands, near to where BP is about to begin deepwater drilling.

The conclusions, sent to BP executives in a letter in October last year, found “training of some new personnel to basic safety standards was ineffective”.

The letter, obtained by The Daily Telegraph under Freedom of Information laws, added there was “evidence of a culture among your contractors, Seawell (up to senior levels of management), of working outside of procedures, permit or permit conditions”.

Investigators also criticised BP for its response to the inquiry, saying “did not appear to identify the significance of issues raised by the complainant once they were put to you by HSE”.

According to the letter, there are four examples of incidents on North Sea rigs in 2008 and 2009 where BP failed to learn lessons after investigations.

It comes as Tony Hayward, the chief executive of BP, prepares to be questioned on Wednesday by a panel of MPs on UK deepwater drilling.

Tim Yeo, chairman of the Energy and Climate Change Committee, said training of North Sea staff was of key interest to the inquiry.

“There are some extremely important aspects of training that do need improving,” he said.

Another committee member, Tom Greatrex, said he is “concerned about the difference between rhetoric and reality” over North Sea safety.

Steve Walker, head of the offshore division at the HSE, said work permits and training were a “pretty central part of major hazard control”.

A response to the investigation from BP central office told the HSE that its processes had been reviewed and improved by November.

A reply to the HSE from the head of operations at Clair said: “Your letter provoked consternation amongst the Clair offshore team, who strongly refute the allegations set out in your letter.”

A BP spokesman said: “Clair has an excellent safety track record and has recently achieved six years of operation without any injury that has resulted in a day away from work.”

Records show that four out of five of BP’s North Sea installations inspected last year were issued with warnings for failure to comply with regulations on oil spills

Better training was a recommendation in BP’s internal report last week into what caused the Deepwater Horizon rig to sink, killing 11 men and triggering a giant oil spill.

Steve Rae, Seawell, VP International drilling, said that Seawell had cooperated fully with the investigations. “These investigations did not result in any improvement notice being raised or issued against Seawell. Seawell, who have been recognised for their best in class safety performance over the last three consecutive years by IADC North Sea Chapter, have the highest regard for all health and safety related matters and take all such investigations as very serious.”



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