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April 24, 2012

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EU proposal “will set UK offshore safety back years”

The oil and gas industry and union leaders have issued a joint statement, voicing their fears that the European Union’s proposed regulation of offshore safety could seriously weaken the safety regime in the UK.

The EU’s legislative proposals for offshore safety were drafted last year, based on its belief that “the likelihood of a major offshore accident in European waters remains unacceptably high”. The proposals seek to centralise control of offshore health and safety and environmental protection in Europe, overturning the current situation where each national government is responsible for regulating offshore activities in its own waters. The Regulation would apply to all of the European Union’s (EU) 27 member states, as well as Norway.

The statement – issued by Oil & Gas UK, along with the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and Unite the Union – outlines how the proposed Regulation will have a serious detrimental impact on standards of safety and environmental protection on the UK continental shelf (UKCS) – not least by increasing bureaucracy and paperwork, and by its failure to acknowledge the importance of workforce involvement in contributing to regulatory compliance and best practice.

“The safety of the workforce is the UK oil and gas industry’s top priority,” said Oil & Gas UK chief executive Malcolm Webb. “We fear that, far from adding any tangible benefit to the UK’s world-class system, moving overall responsibility for offshore safety to the EU, which has absolutely no experience or competence in the area, would undermine our high standards of offshore safety and environmental protection.”

According to the organisation and its union partners, the Regulation would require the re-writing or revocation of significant parts of existing UK legislation. As a result, almost 300 UK safety cases would need to be re-drafted, re-submitted to the HSE and re-validated – an onus that could divert vital industry and regulatory resources away from tackling front-line safety challenges.

The statement further highlights that the success of the existing UK offshore safety regime is, in part, a result of extensive collaboration between the regulator, the industry and its workforce in developing safety legislation and supporting guidance. The EU Regulation, however, fails to recognise the importance of the workforce and safety representatives offshore in helping ensure high health and safety standards on oil and gas platforms.

Jake Molloy, regional organiser at RMT, said: “We see workforce involvement as a fundamental part of improving all-round safety performance in the offshore industry, and this is increasingly being recognised by operators and contractors. Significant improvements in this vital area have been made, with a great deal more still to come, but all the good work currently underway could be jeopardised with the application of the EU Regulation.”

The parties are also concerned that the Regulation is ambiguous and will therefore create confusion over compliance.
John Taylor, Unite the Union’s regional industrial organiser, said: “The proposed EU Regulation will do nothing to improve safety offshore; if allowed to come in, it will set offshore safety back years.

“We will continue to work with employers, the HSE and our fellow European unions in an attempt to persuade the Commission to listen to the many voices that have been raised against the proposal.”

Oil & Gas UK is keen to stress that it supports the European Commission’s ambition to bring all members states’ offshore safety regimes up to the standard of countries bordering the North Sea, but is adamant that the proposed rules are seriously flawed.

Added Malcolm Webb: “The improvement of other safety regimes to bring them up to north-west European standards would be best handled by a properly-worded EU Directive, which would also have the advantage of leaving the existing world-class safety systems intact. If that route was adopted, the UK oil and gas industry would be happy to work closely with the Commission to help disseminate North Sea experience and good practice.”

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