Page last updated at 00:03 GMT, Friday, 4 July 2008 01:03 UK

Safety legacy left by Piper Alpha

Piper Alpha
Piper Alpha was the world's worst offshore disaster

The lessons of the Piper Alpha disaster should mean future generations of offshore workers are safer, industry experts have said.

The 20th anniversary of 167 men dying in the 1988 North Sea oil platform tragedy is on Sunday.

Industry safety experts and workers new to life offshore say they believe practices are now better.

They believe better platform design, new work systems and greater workforce involvement have improved safety.

A review into safety in the offshore oil industry in the North Sea was announced earlier this week.

The House of Commons heard the announcement after a minute's silence to mark the anniversary.

Mike Laing, 20, is new to the industry and has only been offshore once.

It's important to remember that the hazards will always exist. But the industry is in a different place
Chris Allen
Oil and Gas UK

He was born on 5 July, 1988 - the day before the disaster.

Mr Laing told BBC Scotland of Piper Alpha: "I cannot believe it, the day after I was born, it seems so long ago.

"Definitely I felt really safe when I was offshore."

An inquiry led by Lord Cullen opened in Aberdeen in January 1989, ended in February 1990, and published its 500-page report nine months later.

This led to North Sea safety being shifted from the Department of Energy to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE).

Among changes was automatic shut-down valves being made mandatory on rigs, to starve a fire of fuel.

Offshore fatalities and serious injuries are down, and minor injuries are substantially down.

Turning point

However, incidents such as gas escapes have risen.

Oil and Gas UK is the body representing operators and contractors in the North Sea.

Oil and Gas UK director of health and safety, Chris Allen, said: "Piper Alpha was a turning point for the UK oil and gas industry, leading to significant changes in the industry's approach to safety management, regulation and training.

Jake Molloy
Jake Molloy warned there could be no complacency

"It's important to remember that the hazards will always exist.

"But given the changes the industry has made, the industry is in a different place, which means we can manage the risks much better. Today the offshore industry compares well with many other industries."

Oil and Gas UK is using the 20th anniversary of the disaster to reinforce the safety message offshore. It has produced a DVD that is being sent to all North Sea installations.

Jake Molloy, of the OILC/RMT union, said despite safety improvements in the years since there can never be complacency.

He said: "The industry has learned lessons and we continue to learn lessons.

"There is no doubt that significant improvements in safety have been made across the industry in the 20 years since Piper."

'People key'

Mr Molloy explained: "The regulations that have been introduced coupled with the installation of improved hardware should prevent another disaster on the scale of Piper Alpha. I say 'should' because we can never say never.

"Regulations must be adhered to and the hardware will only ever be as good as the people charged with looking after it. People are therefore key to ensuring safety standards are maintained and improved upon."

The HSE said some companies are better performers than others.

A remembrance service is taking place at the Kirk of St Nicholas in Aberdeen to mark the anniversary on Sunday at 1400 BST. This will be followed by an Act of Remembrance at the Piper Alpha Memorial in the city's Hazlehead Park at 1600 BST.

Piper Alpha was the world's worst offshore disaster, and those attending the events or involved in the industry are determined to ensure that remains the case.




SEE ALSO
Widows hope deaths not in vain
03 Jul 08 |  North East/N Isles
Offshore safety review announced
02 Jul 08 |  North East/N Isles
'Trying to pick which way to die'
02 Jul 08 |  North East/N Isles
Piper Alpha play honours victims
30 Jun 08 |  North East/N Isles
Piper Alpha remembered
06 Jul 98 |  UK News

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