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Piper Alpha: Aberdeen offshore conference teaching disaster lessons

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A three-day conference to encourage people working offshore to think about the lessons of the Piper Alpha disaster is being held in Aberdeen.

A total of 167 men died in the tragedy on 6 July 1988 when explosions and a fireball ripped through the rig.

(Related article: Shell’s North Sea history of safety violations, blackmail and blacklisting)

About 750 delegates will take part in ‘Piper 25’ at the Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre (AECC).

The keynote speaker is Lord Cullen, whose report into the tragedy led to major safety changes.

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 14.21.07Robert Paterson, industry body Oil and Gas UK’s health and safety director, told BBC Scotland: “Exactly the same hazards exist offshore now that existed at the time of Piper Alpha but we manage those risks much better now.

“We want to make sure that complacency doesn’t begin to creep in, that people don’t believe that the issues were all sorted out many years ago.

“People have to realise that they still need to keep managing those hazards.”

‘Safety culture’

It was a disaster which shook the industry and directly led to 106 changes in safety practices.

But many working in the sector still believe more can be done.

The main focus is on cutting leaks of hydrocarbon, otherwise known as oil and gas.

In the past three years they have been almost halved.

Screen Shot 2013-06-18 at 14.21.45But Steve Walker, head of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) offshore division, said eradicating them altogether was a complex business.

“It’s very easy to get procedures in place, to get certifications in place, but I think what people are now realising is that it’s not so much the systems but how those systems are adopted, the competence of the people, how they communicate, the safety culture.”

And that is precisely where the delegates come in.

They and everybody who works in oil and gas are responsible for that safety culture.

The message to them from the conference is to never stop learning the lessons from the Piper Alpha tragedy.

Jake Molloy, from the RMT offshore union, said: “Regrettably 167 people had to die for us to learn but we’ve learnt and we continue to learn.

“It’s a reminder, it’s pricking the conscience of those who were around at the time and, moreover, it’s making those that are coming into the industry aware of the consequences of their failure.”

And preventing future failures is probably the best tribute for those who died and those who survived.

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