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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.

BP rig alarm system bypassed for a year claims engineer

A chief engineer on the doomed Deepwater Horizon drilling rig has told federal investigators that fire and gas-leak alarms had been turned off for at least a year because the platform’s managers didn’t want workers’ sleep disturbed by false alarms.

The alarm system could have alerted the crew to shut down the rig’s engines to prevent triggering an explosion of natural gas that had surged up from the mile-deep well, according to Mike Williams, the chief engineer tech who worked for rig owner Transocean, which was drilling for BP. He testified to a panel from the U.S. Coast Guard and the Interior Department.

He said: “I discovered it was ‘inhibited’ about a year ago, so I inquired. The explanation I got was that from the offshore installation manager down, they did not want people to wake up at 3 a.m. due to false alarm.”

Williams said he complained repeatedly, from six months to three days before the rig exploded April 20 and sank two days later, killing 11 workers and causing the worst environmental disaster in U.S. history. He said the emergency shutdown system had problems previously.

If this allegation turns out to be true, such actions reveal a truly appalling sense of priority on the part of senior management. To bet the health and safety of the rig workers against the possibility of a disturbed night’s sleep counts as a staggering dereliction of the duty of care owed to employees. Oil rigs are dangerous places and when accidents happen they are invariably very serious indeed – that is why the industry’s health and safety standards have to be very high.

Bonnar & Company specialises in dangerous workplace accident claims. Our expert legal team can be contacted on FREEPHONE 0800 163 978.

Forgotten victims of Gulf oil rig disaster

Nearly two weeks after the tragedy, relatives of the men who died on the Deepwater Horizon plan private memorial services as the world choses to focus on the environmental impact of the worst oil spill in history.

The oil rig was positioned 50 miles south of the Louisiana coast and it is now the final resting place of the following 11 men who died in the explosion on 20th April 2010:

Aaron Dale Burkeen, 37, from Mississippi.

Karl Kleppinger Jr., 38, from Mississippi.

Dewey Revette, 48, from Mississippi.

Shane Roshto, 22, from Mississippi.

Roy Kemp, 27, from Louisiana.

Donald Clark, 49, from Louisiana.

Stephen Curtis, 40, from Louisiana.

Blair Manuel, 56, from Louisiana.

Gordon Jones, 29, from Louisiana.

Jason Anderson, 35, from Texas.

Adam Weise , 24, from Texas.

By any yardstick, loss of life on this scale is a major tragedy. We hope that the cause of the explosion is identified as quickly as possible and that health and safety lessons are learned and implemented throughout the oil and gas industry, in all regions of the world where drilling operations are proceeding. Operator safety should be of paramount importance in hazardous environments where workers have the right to expect the highest possible standards that their employers can achieve.