Industry and trade unions aligned on safety risk posed by EU regulation

Organisations and Associations - May 2, 2012

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Oil & Gas UK and the Trade Unions, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) and Unite the Union, have voiced their alarm over the European Union’s proposed regulation of offshore oil and gas safety in a joint statement released today (24 April).

The paper reveals that while the industry and workforce would keenly support any action which improves offshore safety and limits the consequences of a major accident in the UK and elsewhere, the proposed Regulation will have a serious detrimental impact on standards of safety and environmental protection on the UK continental shelf (UKCS).

Malcolm Webb, Oil & Gas UK’s chief executive, said: “The safety of the workforce is the UK oil and gas industry’s top priority. When considering how this would be affected by the proposed EU Regulation, exactly the same conclusion is reached by oil and gas companies and trade unions representing the workforce alike.

"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.”

Many aspects of the proposed Regulation give rise to concern. The Regulation would require the re-writing or revocation of significant parts of the existing legislation. As a result, almost 300 UK safety cases would need to be re-drafted, re-submitted to the HSE and re-accepted, which would divert substantial industry and regulatory resources away from tackling front line safety challenges and into desk-bound paperwork compliance.

Also, key in the evolution and ultimate success of the existing UK offshore safety regime has been the extensive collaboration between the regulator, the industry and its workforce in developing safety legislation and supporting guidance.

No similar involvement has taken place in the development of the Commission’s proposals. Indeed, the EU Regulation fails to acknowledge the importance of the workforce and safety representatives offshore and their role in regulatory compliance.

Jake Molloy, regional organiser at RMT, said: “We see workforce involement 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 Regulation is poorly drafted and ambiguous, which risks creating widespread confusion over how it should be complied with. This confusion will be heightened by the absence of interpretative guidance and completely impractical timescales.

This will inevitably delay new oil and gas field development, with potentially serious knock-on effects for UK investment, jobs, oil and gas production and energy security.

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. We must not fail because the reality that is our failure will put people's lives at risk.”

Mr Webb, who will reinforce the sector’s concern over the proposed Regulation at a seminar in London on 26 April, concluded: “The four European countries that account for 90 per cent of the region’s production already operate under safety regimes that the Commission accepts are global exemplars. To propose that legislative competence should shift from these countries to the 27 EU member states, the vast majority of whom have no involvement in the industry at all, is totally unjustified.

“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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