Oil rig workers can refuse flights

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    Another major offshore company is allowing its workers to refuse to board flights in the wake of the North Sea helicopter crash which killed 16 people.

    While Wood Group Engineering will continue to use Bond Offshore Helicopters, which operated the aircraft that crashed on April 1, the oil services firm says staff will be allowed the choice of whether to fly or not.

    BP had already said that workers would not be forced to board a helicopter for an “indefinite” period of time over safety concerns and the company is not using Bond-operated helicopters while a review is under way.

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    Last week an interim report into the accident blamed “catastrophic” failure in the gearbox of the Eurocopter AS332 L2 for the tragedy and recommended a more stringent system of monitoring the safety of the helicopters until the cause of the crash is known.

    A spokeswoman for Wood Group, which is the only company to have chartered a flight with the operator for today, said it had received assurances from the three North Sea helicopter operators that all mandatory safety measures are being met but she said that nobody would be forced to fly against their will.

    She said: “Wood Group Engineering (North Sea) uses a range of helicopters of different types with each of the helicopter operators. In addition our personnel fly on a variety of aircraft chartered by our clients.

    “As the Civil Aviation Authority, the helicopter operators and the pilots of the aircraft consider that everything is being done to ensure that safety requirements are being met, Wood Group Engineering (North Sea) is continuing, wherever possible, with normal operations.

    “We will not, however, ask anyone to get on a helicopter who doesn’t want to do so at this time.”

    A second Bond-operated flight was due to take place today for another oil company but it has been cancelled.

    Chris Allen, health and safety director with Oil & Gas UK, which represents companies working in the industry, said that all helicopter operators were “fully complying” with instructions to carry out daily checks on the Eurocopter AS332 L2 and examine the maintenance record of a newer version of the same aircraft.

    Union leaders have reiterated calls to ground the AS332 L2 after it emerged that a defect in the gearbox had been spotted seven days before the accident and daily inspections had been carried out from then on.

    But Mr Allen said: “The industry relies on the experts within the Air Accidents Investigation Branch, the European Aviation Safety Agency and the Civil Aviation Authority.

    “They are completely independent and have access to all the relevant data and evidence from the accident. They have the necessary equipment and expertise to reach the right conclusions and impose whatever requirements they feel are necessary to safeguard passengers. Indeed it is their responsibility to do so.

    “The UK oil and gas industry will continue to liaise closely with relevant bodies as the investigation continues and will of course implement any further requirements the AAIB may establish to be necessary.”

    The 14 passengers and two crew were returning from BP’s Miller platform when the helicopter crashed in the sea, 11 miles north east of Peterhead in Aberdeenshire on April 1. AAIB is continuing its investigations to determine what caused the gearbox failure.

    The first meeting of the helicopter accident issues task group set up in the wake of the crash will be held this week and Mr Allen said it would help to share information across the industry and liaise with police, unions and support groups.

    The task group is also expected to discuss plans for a memorial fund to the two crew and 14 passengers who lost their lives in the helicopter tragedy.

    It is understood that Oil & Gas UK has been approached by several organisations with suggestions about a tribute or a fund to be established in honour of the victims.

    Eight of those who died were from Aberdeenshire. Four were from other parts of Scotland, three from England and one from Latvia.

    The Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall will attend a memorial service for the men in Aberdeen tomorrow.

    www.theherald.co.uk

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