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October 14, 2009

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HSE to look into offshore permit system

The HSE is to ask its offshore industry advisory committee what steps

are needed to improve the use of permit-to-work systems in the North

Sea.

The announcement was made by Work and Pensions minister, Jonathan Shaw, during a Commons debate on the sector’s health and safety performance on 13 October. Earlier in the debate, Aberdeen North MP Frank Doran said attempts to deal with potentially dangerous hydrocarbon releases across the industry have had only limited success, because “companies are totally wedded to their own systems”.

He continued: “Individual companies have erected a wall around their current practices. By refusing to be open and to recognise the risks and problems in the current arrangements they are missing an opportunity to move the whole industry forward and to improve safety throughout the North Sea.”

He said the HSE should carry out a proper inquiry to assess the pros and cons of moving to a common permit-to-work system.

Mr Shaw accepted that further work must be undertaken and said the HSE would ask its advisory committee to look into the issue. However, he warned that the current approach had been successful in encouraging a diverse range of new organisations to enter the industry, and that changing to a unified computerised system could bring additional hazards and costs.

However, the announcement failed to encourage RMT regional organiser, Jake Molloy, who told SHP that the oil companies had made it clear they were opposed to a common permit-to-work system, which has been on the agenda for the last ten years. He stressed that without industry willpower, or new regulations, which he does not believe are likely, a common approach would never be established.  

Going on to list a number of benefits of moving to a single system, Molloy said: “That is not to say that it wouldn’t be a good thing. It would reduce the need for people to be trained in multiple systems, so it would be a cost-saving measure in that sense. It would eliminate the need for lengthy induction systems, and everyone would know exactly what is expected of them.”  

He expressed his disappointment that the debate had not focused on greater involvement of safety reps, which the union believes is the key issue in bringing about improvements in health and safety offshore.

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