Ahead of the second anniversary of the Sumburgh offshore helicopter tragedy, Unite has called on the UK government to urgently revisit the recommendation of the previous parliament’s Transport Select Committee for a public inquiry into offshore helicopter safety.
The death of four offshore workers when their helicopter ditched in the waters off the Sumburgh coast on the evening of Friday 23 August 2013, taking the total number of helicopter transfer fatalities since 2002 to 38, sparked fresh calls from offshore trade unions to investigate the industry’s comparatively high helicopter incident rates.
The UK Transport Select Committee subsequently launched its own inquiry into helicopter safety and recommended that there should be a full public inquiry into the impact of commercial pressures on the safety of helicopter transfers across the UK Continental Shelf (UKCS).
This was strongly rejected by the UK government and Oil & Gas UK prior to May’s general election with the Department for Transport (DfT) claiming the safety record of UK commercial helicopter transfers was comparable to the Norwegian offshore industry, where there have been no fatalities since 1997.
Unite Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said: “We need full transparency over the link between commercial pressure and its impact on the safe transfer of offshore workers to and from installations in the UKCS – this can only be achieved through a public inquiry.
“For the UK government to claim that our safety record is comparable with our Norwegian counterparts – who enacted a series of public duties which strengthened health and safety laws in the wake of their last fatalities in 1997 – is shameful.
“Our offshore sector is going through its biggest challenge in a generation and the industry is imposing major reforms to working practices and employment conditions across the UKCS, so surely the time is now to establish how we can make offshore helicopter transfers safer.
“It’s too late for past victims and their families but if the UK government and the offshore industry are serious about improving helicopter safety and restoring the confidence of workers then they will end their opposition to the select committee’s clear recommendation.”
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