Multi-national engineering firm fined £300,000 over North Sea radiation leak

Schlumberger website

An offshore industry firm has been fined £300,000 at Aberdeen Sheriff Court after workers on a North Sea installation were placed at risk of exposure to radiation.

Schlumberger Oilfield UK admitted breaching health and safety laws on a rig about 210 miles east of Dundee during a drill programme in 2008. Radioactive material was left lying on the drill floor for about four hours, during which time 14 workers were placed at risk of exposure.

Schlumberger had been contracted to undertake work as part of a Maersk drilling programme for the Cawdor well.

Elaine Taylor, head of the Crown Office and Procurator Fiscal Service’s health and safety division, said: “This wholly avoidable incident could have had devastating consequences for the workers involved in the operation.”

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Insp Gillian Rodaks said:

“Loss of control of any radioactive source is extremely serious, particularly of the size involved in this incident, and it was only by good fortune that the source was recovered in a relatively short period of time. Had someone held it, even just for a few minutes, they would have received a significant radiation dose which may have resulted in injuries to their hands and increased their risk of developing cancer in later life.This case should serve to remind employers and employees, whether in industry, medicine or research, of the need to be constantly vigilant when working with radioactive sources.”

Although Lord Young has gone, his legacy in the shape of his deeply flawed report and recommendations to government on the compensation culture lives on. Our key concern is that with HSE budget cuts here to stay, employers and contractors on North Sea oil and gas installations will be tempted to relax their vigilence and monitoring of health and safety standards. When international firms are found guilty of “wholly avoidable” breaches of health and safety legislation in a particularly hazardous and dangerous working environment we have to question the operating culture of these global organisations and the true extent of their committment to worker safety. 

We can only hope that this fine will encourage Sclumberger and other firms active in the North Sea to improve their standards and ensure that negligence, laziness, ignorance or indifference have no part to play out on the rigs.  

Bonnar & Company Solicitors specialises in hazardous workplace accident claims. Please contact us free of charge on 0800 163 978 if you have been hurt or injured or developed an industrial illness or disease during the course of your employment.