THIRTY years ago, 167 men lost their lives in the harrowing Piper Alpha tragedy. The devastation of 6 July 1988 spurred sweeping changes across the North Sea industry, driven by the findings of Lord Cullen’s official investigation. The memory of those men and that loss lives on. But for my generation, many of whom were born after that fateful night, how vivid is that call to be and do better?
We are now working in an industry where millennials account for over a third of the workforce, with the majority not even being born before the Piper Alpha disaster. In this world, we must make a concerted effort to work together to ensure effective transfer of knowledge and lessons learned from one generation to the next.
For me, that moment came at the recent Safety 30 conference where I shared the stage with Piper Alpha survivor Steve Rae and OPITO apprentice, Sam Ash.
Mr Rae jumped nearly 21 m from the burning platform to the fiery water below. He was one of 61 survivors. He has since dedicated himself to sharing the offshore safety lessons learned from Piper Alpha.
But the call to build a safer offshore future can’t be left to the voices who endured that heartache alone. It must be heralded by every generation contributing to paving this sector’s future.
As a geophysicist who has now worked in the oil and gas industry for three years, I've had limited exposure to front-line operations. In fact, I’ve only had one trip offshore. However, something that has always been stressed to me is that each of us has a part to play in improving the safety of the industry we work in and are so passionate about.
In the months leading up to Piper’s 30-year anniversary, and particularly since the Safety 30 conference last month, I’ve reflected on how my perception of safety has changed since my internship back in 2013. During that summer, my team and I discussed safety regularly and shared safety moments at the start of nearly every meeting. We would discuss topics such as the importance of wearing your seatbelt whilst driving and putting lids on coffee cups. These discussions were and are important, as they remind us how to protect our personal safety, but they are also so detached from offshore operations.
My perceptions began to alter after moving to Aberdeen in late 2015 and starting work in BP's office in Dyce. Helicopters flew overhead every few hours, new friends began offshore rotations, and my team were remotely geosteering wells that were being drilled only 300 km away.
Things were getting real.
I was encouraged by my manager to visit the drilling rig that I would soon be planning wells for.
That trip offshore was the most valuable learning experience I've had to date. It was great to see the scale of operations, and meet, learn from and build relationships with a range of people working on the rig. Something I found particularly valuable was understanding who was involved in certain types of operations and where they sat in relation to their tools. It makes you think more carefully before requesting information or data, like cuttings samples, when you're back in the office.
I would encourage any office-based employee to seek operational experience, particularly if you’re early on in your career, and I believe managers should support us to do this. After seeing operations first-hand, I returned feeling so much more motivated and invested in the industry as a whole, and I was more appreciative of how the tasks I undertook back in the office impacted safety and people offshore.
My trip also left me feeling empowered to build relationships with people who have more operational experience, so I could ask them questions to increase my competence, understand why certain tasks are undertaken, and share learnings across teams.
For graduates and apprentices to make a difference in the safety of our industry we must be motivated and empowered to do so. I believe the best way to motivate us is to challenge us. Give us space to look for areas for improvement and let us use our alternative outlook to find solutions.
The Safety 30 conference saw the baton passed – from the generation who lived through the heartache of Piper Alpha to those who grew up in its memory. We all have part to play in the relentless pursuit of safety offshore.
Following the conference, I’ve made a commitment to gain more operational experience to stay connected to operations, and to build relationships across disciplines and companies. I challenge you to do the same. By doing this, we can all better understand each other's point of view, gain mutual respect, and work as one team to achieve our shared goal – to create a safer future for our industry and ensure that an event such as Piper Alpha never happens again.
We have added fresh perspectives each day in the run up to the 30th anniversary of the Piper Alpha tragedy. Read the rest of the series here.