Letter: The lessons of Piper Alpha have been heeded

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The Independent Online
Sir: Professor Woolfson's article 'Five years later, they are still in peril on the sea' (7 July) does not reflect the extent or the speed with which measures to improve offshore safety have been implemented by the offshore industry.

The more obvious lessons learnt from the Piper Alpha disaster itself were tackled immediately by the industry. It participated fully in Lord Cullen's inquiry, which determined recommendations for future safety improvements. All his recommendations for industry action have been acted upon and most have already been implemented.

Lord Cullen's proposed 'safety case' regulations - a formal identification and assessment of hazards on each installation - were laid before Parliament in November 1992, and came into effect in May of this year. Operating companies have to submit a safety case, which includes a demonstration that they have an adequate safety management system, submitted to and accepted by the Health and Safety Executive. The concept of safety management systems and the safety case approach to safety was, in fact, put forward by the industry itself to Lord Cullen.

A recent survey by Aberdeen University on the effectiveness of the offshore safety committees and safety representatives regulations showed that 98 per cent of the workforce is aware of the regulations and the safety committee system. Every installation has a safety committee staffed with representatives freely elected by the whole workforce - not just appointed by trade unions.

This survey also confirmed that in the space of four years (the legislation only came into force in 1989) every offshore installation has elected safety representatives and a safety committee. Onshore, less than one in 10 of industrial premises have safety representatives and committees - 16 years after the legislation was enacted. Clearly the offshore industry has made rapid and effective progress.

Statistics, published each year by the Health and Safety Executive, show a most encouraging trend in that over the past 10 years offshore injury frequency has been more than halved. This is a better record than that achieved by comparable industries such as coal mining, metal manufacturing and construction.

While there is never any room for complacency, the industry believes the safety case approach and the full involvement of the workforce in all aspects of safety will help to sustain continuing improvements in safety performance.

Yours sincerely,


Director - Technical Affairs

UK Offshore Operators


London, SW1

8 July