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Wednesday, 28 August 2013 00:00

Oil firms bully workers onto danger flights

by Rory MacKinnon

Oil and gas unions scorned "useless" promises on helicopter safety today after footage emerged showing platform bosses bullying workers into boarding Super Pumas days before Friday's fatal crash.

Workers with transport union RMT were set to rally outside helicopter operator CHC's offices this morning.

Meanwhile the platform operators' Helicopter Safety Steering Group was due to meet to "review" a new ban on the accident-prone Super Puma fleet.

Industry body Oil & Gas UK has said it gave platform workers "several levels of assurance" regarding the aircraft's safety.

Officials are investigating after a Super Puma Eurocopter carrying 16 passengers and two crew from the Borgsten Dolphin platform crashed into the sea off Shetland on Friday night, killing four.

The fleet only returned to service two weeks before the crash after a 10-month ban due to two emergency landings.

Oil & Gas UK claimed workers would not be forced to ride in the helicopters if they did not want to, although union officials are not allowed to visit the platforms to verify the policy.

But footage was leaked today of a company rep telling workers on the Dolphin platform to "put our big boy pants on" or risk losing their jobs.

The film shows an August 8 safety briefing featuring CHC's chief pilot Will Hanekom and a bevy of managers from platform operator Total, including head of logistics Christophe Barber.

At one point a worker asks what would happen if they refused to board the helicopters.

"How else are we going to get there? It is what we do. At some point we have to put our big boy pants on," a CHC manager replies.

After several more objections a Total representative tells them it "makes no difference" what helicopter they are on.

"You're taking the same risk. If you can't live with that risk then you can't work offshore," he said.

RMT offshore organiser Jake Molloy today described the comments as "outright intimidation."

"This contradicts everything the industry has given us assurances around: support and counselling if requested, scheduling of alternate flights," he said.

"We would have never expected the kind of reaction."

The Unite union's Scottish secretary Pat Rafferty said the "disturbing" footage showed the companies' guarantees were "useless."

It was time for an emergency Scottish Parliament debate, he added.

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