Unite launch North Sea helicopter safety drive

Unite are to launch a major drive for improvements to North Sea helicopter flights. Picture: Complimentary

Unite are to launch a major drive for improvements to North Sea helicopter flights. Picture: Complimentary

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THE Unite union is to launch a major drive for immediate improvements to the safety of North Sea helicopter flights following the Super Puma helicopter disaster off Shetland in which four oil workers were killed,

The campaign - “Back Home Safe” - will be calling for increased investment to create a larger North Sea helicopter fleet for crew change flights, changes to the seating configuration inside helicopters, and changes to the design of choppers used for offshore flights.

The union claimed today that an initial poll of more than 500 workers had shown that over half - 50.7 per cent - have no confidence in the safety of offshore helicopter flights. And 81 per cent of workers said that their level of confidence in helicopter flights had decreased in the last twelve months.

Unite is now planning to submit a petition next month to Oil and Gas UK, the pan industry trade body,calling for action from the industry and helicopter operators.

The cause of 23 August crash in which a CHC-operated Super Puma AS332L2 helicopter plunged into the sea on its approach to Sumburgh airport has still to be established. The crash claimed the lives of Sarah Darnley, 45, from Elgin, Gary McCrossan, 59, from Inverness, Duncan Munro, 46, from Bishop Auckland, and George Allison, 57, from Winchester.

And the findings of a Civil Aviation Authority investigation into concerns surrounding the five North Sea ditchings and crashes in the last four years, including the Sumburgh Head disaster, are not expected to be published until January.

Tommy Campbell, Unite’s Aberdeen-based regional officer, said ‘Offshore workers have spoken and clearly stated their legitimate concerns. Over 1500 offshore workers have already backed Unite’s demands and we expect many more to pledge their support before the petition is submitted to Oil and Gas UK in December.

“Overwhelmingly offshore workers are demanding action from the industry to improve the safety of offshore helicopter flight. Oil and Gas UK must now act.”

A Unite spokesman said the union had already carried out an extensive consultation with its member and the wider offshore workforce, following last August’s fatal crash.. And it revealed that 95 per cent of workers are demanding increased investment to create a larger offshore fleet. Ninety four per cent are calling for changes to the internal seat configuration on offshore helicopters and 93 per cent are also demanding changes to the design of helicopters used for passenger transfer offshore

The campaign has also set out a series of initial demands for offshore flight improvements. These include:

• Safer emergency lighting and seating configuration in all offshore helicopters to aid evacuation.

• The immediate implementation of all safety recommendations from past offshore helicopter incidents.

• An independent review to improve emergency response contingencies in the event of a ditching to maximise the survival time of helicopter passengers and crew.

• And improved survival equipment and training for offshore workers.

The Unite spokesman said: “Other improvements that were a priority for a significant number of workers were internal emergency lighting fitted to helicopters, a confidential whistle blowing line, and improved floatation devices fitted to helicopters.”

He added: “Offshore workers will not accept ‘business as usual’ Back Home Safe is a member and offshore worker-led campaign which calls for immediate improvements to the safety of offshore flights.”

The campaign will be officially launched tomorrow at Unite’s regional offices in Aberdeen.

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