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February 25, 2009

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Guidelines on removing contractors should boost offshore safety

In a move that should encourage oil and gas workers to raise safety

concerns with management, new guidelines have been introduced setting

out the protocol companies should follow when removing contractors from

offshore installations.

The RMT union has been pressing for the outlaw of the practice — known as Not Required Back (NRB) — which, it suggests, has led in some cases to the unjustified dismissal of workers who challenged gaps in safety procedures.

Describing how the practice works, the union’s regional organiser, Jake Molloy, said that when an owner of an offshore installation decides it wants to get rid of a worker, it contacts the operative’s contracting employer to tell it the individual is no longer required on that installation. He explained that NRB sent a strong signal to workers that it might not be in their best interests, from an employment perspective, to raise safety issues, or question anything that they see on an installation.

In a bid to improve transparency of the process, the industry body, Oil and Gas UK, has now launched voluntary guidance to offshore operators on how to remove workers fairly.

Molloy told SHP: “The industry has at last taken on board the views of the workers and the trade unions. We welcome the introduction of this guidance and believe it can deliver on several fronts.

“From industry, it certainly delivers the message that NRB is no longer tolerable in this day and age. This means the guidance should act as a real deterrent to bad practice on the part of individual managers. We hope it will encourage greater involvement of workers in the safety agenda, as any perceived fears about NRB should be dispelled.

“Finally, in the event of a dispute about the removal of a worker, the process delivers a degree of fairness and natural justice, which was previously absent. All of this can only have a positive effect on safety performance and industrial relations.”

Oil & Gas UK’s chief executive, Malcolm Webb, claimed that poor practice in removing contractors was only evident in a small number of cases. But he accepted that it needed to be rectified by the industry. “We want to leave no doubt that safety issues can be raised by anyone at any time, so even the perception that this was not always the case needed to be dealt with,” explained Webb. “I am particularly encouraged that the new guidelines have been endorsed by employers and trade-union representatives alike.”

The group’s health, safety and environment director, Chris Allen, stressed that the guidelines recognise the right of offshore installation managers (OIMs) to remove an individual from an installation if that person presents an immediate risk to safety, or good order.

“However”, he added, “the guidelines clearly state that this right should not be exercised without justifiable reason, or without following the due process.

“The new guidelines will ensure that in those cases where removal is deemed to be an appropriate course of action by the OIM, this is done in a fair and transparent way, with appropriate investigation and justification being provided.”

The head of the HSE’s Offshore Division, Ian Whewell, gave his backing to the guidelines, describing them as “a very positive step”.

He commented: “The perception that raising safety issues may result in workers being unfairly ‘not required back’ has been a real obstacle to improved workforce involvement in safety. I hope the new guidelines will now address situations which have led to this perception, and give everyone offshore much more confidence to speak up for safety, in the knowledge that, in doing so, they will be fairly treated.”

The guidelines will be reviewed after a year by both the industry and the unions to measure their effectiveness.

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