Health and Safety Executive statement on 20th anniversary of Piper Alpha
Date: Thursday, September 04, 2008 @ 10:57:35 BST
Topic: Health and Safety Executive (HSE) News

Commenting on the 20th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster where 167 people lost their lives in a major offshore explosion, Judith Hackitt, Chair of the Health and Safety Executive said.

“On the 20th anniversary of the Piper Alpha disaster we remember all those who were involved; those who lost their lives, their families and those who were injured. HSE’s Offshore Division was established as a result of the inquiry into the tragedy and since that time many lessons have been learned and there has been a considerable improvement in offshore safety.

Today, the offshore industry is as important to the UK as ever and safety must remain paramount in this challenging and harsh environment. HSE’s own work has identified that more needs to be done to maintain the integrity of an ageing infrastructure and continue to reduce the risks for those working offshore – our KP3 report last year identified the need for greater leadership, more good practice sharing and improved worker involvement.

HSE will continue to work closely with employers, employees and their representative organisations to drive up standards of health and safety in the offshore industry. Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, James Purnell, has asked us to carry out a review of progress in offshore safety since the publication of KP3. This will be a fitting and timely way to ensure that no-one becomes complacent and that we all maintain vigilance to ensure that the lessons of the Piper Alpha tragedy are never forgotten.

The Health and Safety Executive Offshore Division was established as a direct result of the Lord Culllen inquiry into the tragedy.

Background to the offshore sector

The UK sector is one of the largest producers of offshore oil and gas in the world, and remaining reserves are likely to be equivalent to those produced already. There are about 29,000 people directly employed offshore and about 320,000 other jobs either dependent on or supported by the offshore sector; direct investment offshore by industry was about £8.6bn in 2004. The contribution of oil and gas production to the UK economy is enormous.

Interruption of supply, for example through adverse unplanned events such as serious injury, accident or a hydrocarbon escape has a huge financial impact and potential social consequences. Therefore as well as being a high hazard industry, the offshore industry is still an important part of the UK’s social and economic system.

Following the Piper Alpha tragedy in July 1988 in which 167 people perished, Lord Cullen made 106 recommendations for improving control of major hazards offshore, all of which were accepted by government. Responsibility for the regulation of the offshore industry transferred to HSE and the pre-existing suite of regulations (so-called prescriptive regulations because they set specific requirements on duty holders) were replaced by goal setting regulations.

The corner stone of the current regime is the creation of a safety case for each installation that demonstrates how major accident hazards are adequately controlled and that the management system is suitable. HSE must accept the safety case before the duty holder can bring their installation into use on the UKCS.

In the period after Piper Alpha the offshore industry traditionally comprised large international companies with considerable health and safety expertise, but the industry is now changing. Very high levels of activity and the need to extend the life of the infrastructure are being driven by unprecedented high oil prices. Trade associations are restructuring, companies are amalgamating and assets are being sold to newcomers, many of whom are small and without experience of operating on the UKCS. New technology is being introduced for which there is little or no operational experience. Questions are being asked as to whether ageing equipment should be kept going, reused elsewhere or decommissioned. Environmental concerns, such as demands for complete removal of redundant installations, may also have safety implications. Strategies are being developed to tackle these new risks.

HSE’s Offshore Division (OSD) and a supporting policy unit are together working to raise standards of health and safety in the offshore industry. However the Regulator cannot act alone. Responsibility for health and safety lies mainly with those who own, manage, and work in industrial and commercial undertakings.

Further information on HSE’s Offshore Division is available at:

This article comes from Sheffield Occupational Health and Safety Association (SOHSA)

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