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Piper Alpha 30 years on

Today, 6 July 2018, marks the 30th anniversary of one of Britain's worst ever health and safety accidents. At 9.55pm that evening, on the Piper Alpha oil and gas platform 120 miles off Aberdeen in the North Sea, an explosion occurred killing 167 people, including two crewmen of a rescue vessel; 61 workers escaped and survived. Thirty bodies were never recovered. It was the worst offshore oil and gas disaster in history.

The Cullen Inquiry was set up in November 1988 to establish the cause of the disaster.

It concluded that a condensate leak was the result of maintenance work being carried out simultaneously on a pump and related safety valve.

The Inquiry was critical of Piper Alpha's operator, Occidental, which was found guilty of having inadequate maintenance and safety procedures, but no criminal charges were ever brought against the company.

106 recommendations for changes to North Sea safety procedures, and this led to changes in legislation.

A conference in Aberdeen was held in June this year to commemorate the anniversary of the tragedy, and to review the safety changes that were made after the disaster.

"Safety 30" highlighted the need for continued vigilance and continuous improvement in safety systems on our oil platforms, and in all other high risk industries.

In Britain, the oil and gas industry took heed of the awful events that night in the North Sea. They learned the lessons the hard way, but as a result no similar tragedy has taken place in British waters since.

This is a model of how accident investigations should be done. Of how learning from previous tragedy and previous mistakes can make our world a safer place in which to work. Those 167 victims' legacy is that others can work more safely.

I wrote last week on this web site about how, in most cases, lessons are not fully learned from tragic events, and how the human reaction of self-preservation when we make errors is a problem.

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