RMT marks 35th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster

RMT marks 35th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster

6 July 2023

RMT Press Office:

Piper Alpha claimed the lives of 165 offshore oil and gas workers and two seafarers who were part of the emergency response.

This North Sea 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 by the Thatcher Government.
The root cause of the Piper Alpha disaster was primarily an inappropriate permit to work system. On the night of the tragedy, workers reinstated and injected condensate fluid into a pump, not knowing a safety valve on another deck had been removed and replaced by a non-leak-proof disk. 
The high-pressure condensate flow leaked from the disk and soon ignited. The first explosion broke through a fire wall that was not fit to stand up to explosive events. 
This led to secondary explosions in the module neighbouring the location of the initial leak. 
Rubber matting used by divers on a lower deck accumulated a pool fire which ultimately resulted in the devastating and irreversible damage of the fire ball that engulfed the platform at 22:20 on 6th July, 1988. From this point onward, the fate of the oil rig was sealed.
In September 1997, Step Change in Safety was launched by the UK offshore industry. Two years later, trade unions reported Shell for failure to comply with more than 60 of Lord Cullen’s 106 Piper Alpha recommendations.
From a safety-focused conference some 30 years later, the investigative lead, the Rt Hon Lord Cullen, remarked:
“It’s not much good having an investigation if it doesn’t lead to lasting improvements in safety ... results being embedded in the control of risk and reflected in the way in which work is tackled and done.”
RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch said: “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 workers 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 35th anniversary of the Piper Alpha tragedy, RMT again calls for a review of the effectiveness of the safety regime across the entire offshore and maritime sector.
"Booming profits and dividends for multinationals, the climate and cost of living crises, energy security, growing demands on a finite workforce, the safety maintenance backlog 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.
“We ask 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 northeast Scotland. The men of Piper are gone but will never be forgotten.
“This year, the anniversary of Piper Alpha again takes place during the UK Government’s Maritime Safety Week. We once more call on Ministers to respect the memory of Piper Alpha’s victims by delivering the offshore safety culture of continuous improvement recommended in the Cullen Report into the disaster.”

RMT Scottish Regional Council will lay a wreath at the memorial in Hazelhead Park, Aberdeen to mark this special day.

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Tagged with: RMT, Piper Alpha, Mick Lynch, Offshore, Offshore Workers