On July 6th 1988, North Sea-based oil production platform Piper Alpha – located just off the coast of Aberdeen in Scotland – exploded, with both oil and gas fires destroying the platform and killing 167 people, including two crewmen on board a rescue vessel. Some 61 workers managed to escape, but 30 bodies of those killed were never recovered.
This, according to the Guardian, is the deadliest oil rig incident ever to have taken place anywhere in the world, with controversy around the case heightened after a report found that operator Occidental Petroleum had failed to implement appropriate maintenance and safety procedures.
Now, nearly 30 years after the disaster, Oil & Gas UK has held a major safety conference with nearly 700 people in attendance, designed to help the industry make choices that will have a positive impact on safety culture.
Safety 30 was opened on its final day by Paul Wheelhouse, Scottish energy minister, who noted that he vividly recalled the Piper Alpha incident and that safety should always be the top priority above everything else.
Survivor of the disaster Steve Rae helped to close the conference by challenging everyone there present to make conscious choices to do one thing differently to make changes where safety culture is concerned.
Mr Rae, who still works in the industry as an operations manager, explained that the changing labour force in this particular industry learns differently and expects to see technology included in the learning process.
However, little effort has been made to assess and develop cognitive soft skills and the sector could learn more about training from the aviation industry which is now bringing together technical and non-technical training so as to help build resilience in pilots, he went on to say.
Commenting on the conference, chief executive of Oil & Gas UK Deirdre Michie said: “From Lord Cullen opening Safety 30 to Piper Alpha survivor Steve Rae sharing safety reflections with two of industry’s next generation, it has been an engaging and insightful conference.
“The tragedy of Piper Alpha left a safety legacy that must remain with us – as we have highlighted these last two days – and I sincerely hope that we all now go back to our workplaces better informed, motivated and committed to doing our part to improve process safety across the industry.”
The Health & Safety Executive’s director of energy division Chris Flint made further comments, saying it is clear that warning signs have indeed been present before incidents have occurred and had they been recognised and acted upon, disasters such as Piper Alpha could have been prevented.
Lord Cullen, meanwhile, who wrote the initial report into the incident back in the late 80s, has now said that managers in the offshore industry should be more inquisitive about workers’ experiences and safety worries. He issued a call to leaders in the sector to be more alert to signs of danger, the Scotsman reports.
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