Offshore worker killed on a ship in Stavanger, the police and the Norwegian authorities denied investigation: This is the black hole of the subsea oil industry

28. januar 2016

On how to make oil workers keep quiet about safety concerns, and other dark tales from the subsea oil industry.

On 21 February 2015, while docked at the pier in Stavanger, a 43 year old man is killed aboard the DOF-owned vessel Skandi Skansen. During a routine operation he was a victim of a work accident. Police and paramedics are trying to save his life, but in vain. The Norwegian Labour Inspection Authority is called. Both the police and Labour Inspection are stopped at the pier. They are not allowed to carry out an investigation.

A man has been killed in Stavanger – during a routine operation, on a project for the Norwegian oil industry, and the police are being put on the sideline. The ship is registered in the tax haven of Bahamas. This is the offshore giant DOF, on an assignment for the Norwegian oil industry.

This is an industry with high risk. Underwater contractor Technip was recently fined for an accident where oil worker David Stephenson was crushed by a winch in the British sector. David Stephenson had to pay with his life.

In June 2015 Technip experienced a serious personal injury on board the Norwegian-built vessel North Sea Atlantic. The vessel is registered in Malta. This time it took place in the North Sea, UK sector. The worker was so severely injured that he had to be sent ashore by helicopter. The ship is now doing work in Australia.

Make people into casual laborers. Then they keep their mouths shut

A person working on a multi-purpose vessel asked me the following question: «What is the best way to make people to keep their mouths shut?”. Before I could answer, he yelled out: «You make them into casual workers – you put them onto daily pay rates! You do NOT pay wages between assignments, and make them dependent on receiving phone calls!! Fuck all on-call employment in the North Sea!»

Pissed off when he tried to explain. Frustrated. What you get then, is what in HSE-terms is called “silent deviations”. People look the other way when observing hazardous conditions, rather than reporting it. Oil workers take risks rather than refraining from carrying out dangerous operations.

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A dad who never comes home from work

The ultimate consequence of poor safety conditions is not an environmental damage to seabirds, or damaged spawning grounds for fish.

The ultimate consequence of poor safety conditions is a dad who never comes home from work. Parents who lose their daughter to the oil industry. Workers being sacrificed on the altar of company profits.

«Son, when you grow you can be anything you want to be. But you shall never have to do the same work as I do”

Not long ago I spoke to an offshore worker. A father, who just after having returned home to his family after 17 days on a rig, was called back out again to a multi-purpose vessel due to staff shortage. For four weeks, this time around.

He called the Norwegian supervisory authority, PSA, and asked at what point he could say stop. Where did the limit go? He was exhausted, worn out after doing night shifts only. 12 hour shifts. He was worried about his own and his work mates’ safety.

However, the supervisory authority had no answer. They didn’t know. He told me they didn’t seem to grasp that service personnel and ROV-pilots are shuffled around like this.

Evers since his first son was born, he has always sent him pictures of the ships he’s been working on, and pointed at the ships as they go by in the fjord where they live. He asked his son what he wanted to be when he grew up. His son replied that he wanted to work on a ship in the North Sea, just like his father. In many circumstances an answer that would make a father proud, but as he then responded: «Son, when you grow you can be anything you want to be. But you shall never have to do the same work as I do”

If you have permanent employment, you have security. You dare to speak out

To speak up about security concerns, requires a basic level of work security, of workers’ rights. To know that your job does not disappear because you report irregularities.

Permanent employment is crucial for safety. This is of course given for all working people, but a mystery to many politicians. Permanent employees dare to speak out when something is not right. If you are a permanent employee, you will not be fired because you have pointed at a safety flaw. A crane operator at Ekofisk dare speak out about the waves being too high or the wind too strong. He is a permanent employee. Got the backing of safety representatives and shop stewards.

Security in a sector outside the law

The oil workers on multi-purpose vessels in the North Sea are outside the law. They are not seafarers, they are just included in the projects of underwater contractors. They operate the cranes, they are welders and they are roustabouts. They handle equipment worth billions.

The oil worker may be from Ukraine. Lithuania. UK. Countries with high unemployment, where a job is of high value. They have families.

Moreover, they are employed by a recruitment agency from Singapore, leased to a Norwegian subsea contractor and do work for Statoil on the Norwegian shelf. On a ship registered in a tax haven.

They fall between all stools. They are not regarded as seafarers because they are not involved in the ship’s propulsion. Petroleum Safety Authority Norway (PSA) do not see them as oil workers, since the ship does not take over control of the oil well when they perform their work. They have no protective acts; nor maritime law or the Working Environment Act apply to them. Legislations of tax havens that apply.

Silent deviations continues

One dared to tell. Reported an unwanted event. He got a call from onshore during which he was asked if he was aware of «whatever infernal fuss he had started?? !!» He keeps quiet after that. Silent deviations continues. The result? Oil and gas installations are maintained by scared oil workers.

Watch the movie "Outside the Law":


By Ommund Stokka, Area Manager, Industri Energi

 An earlier version of this blog post was first published in Norwegian


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Ommund Stokka


Ommund Stokka er med i den landsmøtevalgte ledelsen i Industri Energi. Han leder forbundets arbeidslivsavdeling.
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