THE wife of an oil worker who lost his life last year when a Super Puma crashed off the Shetland islands has hit out at the UK government’s refusal to hold a public inquiry into helicopter safety.
Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin yesterday rejected a call by MPs for a full public inquiry into helicopter safety and concerns that “commercial pressures” are putting lives at risk in the oil and gas industry.
The Commons transport select committee had demanded a full inquiry after it held an investigation, following the deaths of four oil workers in August last year when a Super Puma crashed off Shetland.
It was the fifth helicopter accident involving the transfer of oil and gas industry personnel in the North Sea since 2009. But in his response to the committee’s report, Mr McLoughlin said: “With regards to commercial pressure, neither the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), industry nor government has seen any evidence to suggest that safety is being compromised as a result of commercial pressure from the industry.
“It is true that competition for contracts, particularly where contracts are offered at short notice or awarded at a lower price, may impact on the ability of the operator to recruit and train for a new commitment, but there is no evidence to suggest this is the case.”
He added: “It is important for the CAA and industry to be given time to implement the recommendations from the CAA’s offshore review.
“In the circumstances, the government does not support the call for a public inquiry on this issue.”
His conclusions were attacked by Julia Allison, wife of George Allison who died in the crash off Sumburgh.
She said: “My husband was a safety training specialist with 27 years of experience in the oil and gas industry worldwide. He took his responsibilities very seriously.
“On many occasions, he discussed with me his concerns about offshore safety at every level of the industry, including in the helicopter transport sector.”
She went on: “I believe that the industry’s record over the past few years shows that there are fundamental problems which have not been resolved.
“I am deeply disappointed that the secretary of state has refused to order that inquiry.”
Aberdeen North Labour MP Frank Doran has been campaigning for a full public inquiry after a series of fatal helicopter accidents linked to the oil and gas industry.
He said: “I am deeply disappointed that the secretary of state has decided not to hold a public inquiry.
“I believe there are fundamental issues which have not been dealt with, not the least of which is the way the offshore helicopter transport industry has been regulated over the past 40 years.”
The committee’s Tory chairwoman Louise Ellman also expressed her disappointment, saying: “This is a regrettable decision for the loved ones and relatives of people killed in offshore helicopter accidents.
“It sends the wrong signal to people who continue to work in the offshore industry.”
Mick Cash, general secretary of offshore union the RMT, said: “We are appalled that the government have point-blank refused to hold the full independent and public inquiry into helicopter safety that has been an absolute core demand from the workforce that we represent.
“An inquiry would have gone some way toward dispelling existing concerns which continue to undermine workforce confidence.”