Leaders: Safety must be paramount

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FOR most of us, the commute to work involves little more than waiting for a bus or jumping in the car for a short drive.

For thousands of men and women working in the North Sea oil industry, however, it involves clambering into survival suits and travelling over icy waters in a cramped helicopter, having first undergone extensive practical training on what to do in the eventuality of the aircraft ditching on water. Employers and employees in this industry go to enormous lengths to maximise safety and to ensure a constant appreciation of the inherent risk of what, for many workers, is simply a routine part of their jobs. But after Friday’s ditching of a Super Puma Mark 2 helicopter in the sea near Sumburgh, with the loss of four workers’ lives, the question will quite rightly be asked: is enough being done to secure these workers’ safety in one of Scotland’s most important industries?

In the aftermath of this tragedy, to be working in the North Sea – or, perhaps even worse, to have a loved one working there – is to carry a burden of anxiety that nobody should have to bear as a result of someone simply doing a job. The concern 
expressed yesterday by Unite union representative Tommy Campbell needs no elaboration: “There are people this weekend who were expecting their loved ones home from their work, either last night or this morning, and they are never going to see them again.”

What is especially worrying about Friday’s incident is the speed with which it happened. So short was the gap between something going wrong and the helicopter plunging into the water close to the Shetland coast that there was not even time to send a mayday signal. This suggests a catastrophic mishap that caused the aircraft to plummet from the sky like a stone.

We have been here before – the history of the North Sea is littered with helicopter accidents, most of them thankfully non-fatal, but some, like the April 2009 disaster off Peterhead that claimed 16 lives, leaving an indelible mark on the industry. The 2009 crash involved the same make of helicopter involved in Friday’s ditching, inevitably raising a question over whether this was a coincidence, or part of a lethal pattern.

Firms operating North Sea helicopters responded swiftly yesterday, with fleets using Super Pumas grounding their aircraft. This was, of course, the right thing to do while air accident inspectors try to establish the cause of the Sumburgh crash. But longer-term, there must be question mark over whether the industry can once more have the same degree of confidence in this type of Super Puma. Can it really be relied upon to act as one of the workhorses of the North Sea?

Last night, investigators were still searching for the “black box” cockpit flight data recorder, which will contain crucial clues as to what happened and why. It may take some time 
before any credible evidence emerges that gives a reliable picture of what happened on Friday. The industry must take as long as is necessary to come to its conclusions about this tragedy, without the application of commercial pressure to resume business as usual.

In the meantime, this newspaper joins with people all over Scotland in expressing our deepest condolences to the families of those who lost their lives. We and others will now be scrutinising how Scotland’s oil and gas industry responds, to ensure that its response is sufficient to the task of keeping North Sea workers safe.

Embarrassed again

The Burrell is a much-prized and much-loved part of the fabric of the city of Glasgow, the building and its collection enjoyed by visitors and locals alike for decades. It has at its heart the ethos of art and culture as a force for good, in turns educational, edifying and inspiring.

Its many fans will therefore be appalled and distressed to find the Burrell linked – however indirectly – to the Nazi ­plundering of Jewish art.

Our exclusive story today about the “spoilation claim” served on Glasgow’s cultural authorities over the ownership of a 16th- century Swiss tapestry should be a matter of the most serious concern. Inevitably, the council and Glasgow Life, the ­arm’s-length body that runs the city’s cultural attractions, now have questions to answer. After a similar claim seven years ago, over the ownership of a painting by Jean-Simon Chardin, a review was promised of the city’s holdings to ensure there was no repeat in future.

If the claim on the tapestry is found after due investigation to be legitimate, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that the ­post-Chardin review was not thorough enough. In the event of a new review, the same mistakes must not be made again.

This is an embarrassment for Glasgow, and for Scotland. Let us make sure it is the last.