Maritime Safety Week 2022

Our Ref: HSR/2/6

Head Office Circular: NP/149/22

8th July 2022

To: The Secretary




Dear Colleague,




Further to Head Office Circular NP/147/22, dated 8th July, RMT has continued to promote issues of maritime safety throughout Maritime Safety week including the following:


Piper Alpha

It was the 34th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster which killed 165 offshore oil and gas workers and two seafarers on 6th July.

This disaster triggered the Cullen Inquiry, which reported at the end of 1990. Prior to the launch of the Cullen Report, the Offshore Installations (Safety Representatives & Safety Committees) Regulations 1989 (SI971) were introduced.

In September 1997, Step Change in Safety was launched by the UK offshore industry and the Health and Safety Executive. Two years later, trade unions reported Shell for failure to comply with more than 60 of Lord Cullen’s 106 Piper Alpha recommendations.

The effectiveness of the 1989 regulations have not been reviewed since 2011.

Piper Alpha remains a symbol of the threat poorly regulated, profit hungry operators can pose to the lives of offshore workers and their families. The loss of those 167 souls resulted in much needed improvements to the laws governing health and safety offshore. One change was the legal requirement to establish safety representatives and safety committees elected by offshore workers. Today as we mark the anniversary of the Piper Alpha tragedy, RMT call for a review of the effectiveness of the safety regime across the entire offshore and maritime sector. Booming oil and gas prices, the climate and cost of living crises, energy security, growing demands on a finite workforce and the failure to deliver Just Transition policies all demand a robust and active safety representative structure to drive continuous improvement. Workers’ voices must be heard and the legacy of the 167 Piper Alpha victims must be the safety of all those working across the North Sea today.

I encouraged all members, their families and the public to attend the 2022 Piper Alpha Memorial Service, organised by the Piper Memorial Trust, held at the Piper Alpha Memorial Gardens at Hazlehead Park, Aberdeen on Wednesday 6th July 2022 and asked that offshore employers allow all workers to take a moment today to remember the 167 offshore workers and the devastating effect that this disaster had on their families and communities, especially in north east Scotland. 

The men of Piper are gone but will never be forgotten.


Seafarer Fatigue


For seafarers, fatigue is most likely to be caused by overwork, long and irregular hours resulting in lack of sleep. But the situation will be made worse by many other factors often faced by seafarers, for example:

•           Loneliness, lack of communication with home, social interaction etc

•           Isolation

•           Safety issues with the vessel

•           Issues with non-payment of wages

•           Inadequate and/or poor-quality food

•           Risks such as piracy

•           Repatriation delays following completion of contracts

According to national rules, the employer must guarantee that crewmembers stick to maximum working hours or minimum resting time:

•           The maximum working hours must not exceed 14 hours in any 24-hour period and 72 hours in any 7-day period

•           The minimum resting time cannot be less than 10 hours in any 24-hour period and 77 hours in any 7-day period

•           You can divide the hours of rest into a maximum of two parts. If you split the rest, one of the two rest periods must last at least 6 hours and the interval between consecutive rest periods cannot exceed 14 hours.

Estimates suggest that 25% of marine casualties are caused by fatigue.

Comprehensive research on seafarer fatigue shows how the long working hours culture takes its toll on seafarers:

•           One in four seafarers said they had fallen asleep while on watch

•           Almost 50% of seafarers taking part in a study reported working weeks of 85 hours or more

•           Around half said their working hours had increased over the past 10 years, despite regulations intended to combat fatigue

•           Almost 50% of seafarers surveyed considered their working hours presented a danger to their personal safety

•           Some 37% said their working hours sometimes posed a danger to the safe operations of their ship

How can seafarers cope with fatigue?

The symptoms of fatigue can endanger yourself, your colleagues, your ship and the marine environment. The danger signs include:

•           Inability to stay awake

•           Clumsiness

•           Headaches and giddiness

•           Loss of appetite

•           Insomnia

•           Moodiness and needless worrying

•           Poor judgement of distance, speed, time and risk

•           Slow responses

•           Difficulty concentrating

If you become aware of these signs, you should take the following steps:

•           Use your maximum allowance of sleep, rest and leisure time

•           Inform your supervisor if you think fatigue may be impairing your performance

•           Where possible, rotate your tasks to mix heavy and lighter duties

•           Exercise daily

•           Eat as healthily as possible, limit smoking, caffeine and alcohol consumption


Mental Health/Suicide

RMT highlighted the high levels of suicides at sea and the need for strong trade unions in supporting the mental wellbeing of members.

Suicide tragically remains a huge issue in the maritime industry.  

According to a study from the International Maritime Health journal, an estimated 5.9% of deaths at sea are connected to suicide. Yet, when ‘suspicious’ deaths that were possibly suicides were included, the percentage increased to 18.3%.  

There has been a dramatic increase during the Covid pandemic in the numbers of seafarers who suffer from severe depression (estimated at 25%) and the almost 6% of deaths attributed to suicide. 

The relationship between mental health and unemployment is interlinked and good mental health is a key influence on employability, finding a job and remaining in that job, the union has said. 

I stated that Maritime Safety week was an important time to highlight the personal suffering of our members working at sea. 

At a time when we are facing a cost-of-living crisis, the impact on our members’ mental health is immense. 

When it comes to suicide, employers must identify the problem by encouraging reporting, identify behaviours and identify ways to help. 

RMT is here to assist our members and employers to help with mental wellbeing and maritime workers when they run into difficulties.

Please bring the contents of this circular to the attention of relevant members. 


Yours sincerely


Michael Lynch

General Secretary