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December 1, 2008

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Offshore fatality costs Shell and Amec GBP 383k

Global energy giants Shell UK and Amec Group have been fined £150,000 each and ordered to pay costs of £41,500 apiece after a gas-rig worker fell to his death from an installation in the North Sea.

Norwich Crown Court heard on 26 November that Lowestoft mechanical technician David Soanes had been employed by Amec to carry out maintenance work on a badly corroded external metal staircase on the Shell-operated Sole Pit Clipper offshore gas installation, 40 miles off the Norfolk coast.

On 11 November 2005, Mr Soanes removed two treads from the staircase and fell five metres through the resulting gap to the landing below, sustaining severe head and leg injuries, from which he died.

HSE Principal Inspector David Perry told SHP that the job had been a major operation. Although an electronic permit to work had been issued for the job by Shell, it had not identified the risk of a person falling through a space created by the removal of a stair tread. “Even removing one stair tread would have created sufficient space for a person to fall through, but two treads had been removed in this case,” inspector Perry said said. He added that Mr Soanes had to use a sledgehammer to do the work, as it was a very difficult task. “The job was originally perceived as a two-person job, but it was undertaken by only one worker.”

The inspector said the companies had not properly assessed the risks of the work, nor did they provide adequate supervision. “None of the six people who signed off the permit had really looked at the job in sufficient depth,” the inspector remarked.

In mitigation, the two companies expressed remorse and said they accepted responsibility for the incident and had pleaded guilty at an early stage. They had not intended to profit from making short cuts and had taken measures to improve standards to make sure such an incident could not happen again.

But Judge Jacobs said that although the companies had systems in place, they were not as good as required. He said a “tick-box mentality” existed in the companies regarding safety checks, and he considered both companies equally liable for the shortcomings.

Inspector Perry said the incident resulted from Shell and Amec failing to manage “well-known and readily foreseeable hazards”, in particular falling from height. “Had the companies carried out adequate risk assessments and implemented and supervised the necessary control measures, including the use of a fall-arrest harness, this accident could have been avoided,” he observed.

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