Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 2 August 2014

Crash lessons must be learned: RMT

A diver works on the wreckage of the Super Puma L2 helicopter which went down about two miles west of Sumburgh airport on Shetland
Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin, who died after a Super Puma L2 helicopter went down in the North Sea
Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland, who died after a Super Puma L2 helicopter crashed into the North Sea

Lessons need to be learned in the offshore oil and gas industry in light of the latest fatal helicopter crash, a union has said.

The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) called for safety improvements as it staged a rally in Aberdeen five days after a Super Puma helicopter came down in the water off the southern tip of Shetland.

The crash, which claimed the lives of three men and one woman on Friday, was the fifth incident involving Super Pumas in the North Sea since 2009.

RMT general secretary Bob Crow attended the rally outside the union's Crown Street office.

"One thing's for sure, our members shouldn't pay the ultimate price of losing their life as a result of going to work," he told reporters ahead of the gathering.

He said that while the investigation was still ongoing there was no way of knowing what caused the crash. He said: "We've got to make sure that we learn from those investigations. We don't believe that some people have learned (from) what happened in 2009 and what we don't want is for what happened in 2013 to drift away as well. Next week there might be a war in Syria and the Aberdeen issue will be off the media agenda and forgotten. We've got to make sure that... the industry learns the lessons."

The RMT had planned to protest near the heliport of CHC, the operator of the Super Puma which crashed last week. But the protest at Aberdeen Airport was called off in favour of a city centre rally after the union said Oil and Gas UK had met its demand for guaranteed access to workers on platforms and at heliports. Mr Crow said he had been assured by the Oil and Gas UK chairman that, as soon as there is an opportunity, their officials will be allowed such access after years of being "denied".

In July 1988, an explosion on the Piper Alpha platform in the North Sea led to a fire which killed 167 men.

Speaking before the rally, he said: "Twenty-five years after Piper Alpha we should not be debating the right of a trade union official speaking to their members or for a worker to stand up and say, 'I believe something is unsafe' and get victimised for it. That's something that should be completely eradicated from this industry. People are frightened. You've only got to ask some of those offshore workers at the airport, do they feel safe about talking and they don't. They feel frightened and they feel they are going to be blacklisted, that's not a way to run an industry. With all the money coming out of this industry it should be the safest industry in the world."

The RMT was not the only union making its voice heard on safety concerns. Unite said all Super Puma helicopter flights should remain suspended until the cause of the latest crash is identified. The Super Puma type is said to make up about half of the UK offshore industry's 75-strong helicopter fleet. Union bosses at Unite said workforce confidence in the aircraft type has been "shattered" following last week's crash - a point it planned to make at a meeting of the Helicopter Safety Steering Group in Aberdeen. The union will also be arguing that workers refusing to fly must be supported by their employers.

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