Unions welcome ban on helicopters flying in severe North Sea weather

Unions with members working on off-shore oil installations have tentatively welcomed measures recommended in a report by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Unions with members working on off-shore oil installations have tentatively welcomed measures recommended in a report by the Civil Aviation Authority, which was produced in conjunction with the Norwegian CAA and the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA).

Since 1992, 51 workers have been killed as a result of helicopter accidents related to the North Sea alone. The report was commissioned following August 2013 Super Puma tragedy in which four people died.

The report calls for new safety controls to be imposed on flights in the North Sea, as well as a ban on flights in bad weather.

It also calls for enhanced safety equipment; changes to on-board seating plans which mean that passengers will only be able to fly if seated next to an emergency window exit; extra floatation devices and emergency breathing systems for passengers being ferried to and from the rigs and installations.

From April 2015 workers flying offshore will also be required to meet (as yet unspecified) ‘size requirements’; there will also be changes to the way pilots are trained and checked.

The unions with members working offshore and in the North Sea include Unite, GMB, RMT, Balpa and shipping union Nautilus.

John Taylor, regional officer of Unite, the largest union with members working off shore said:

“The CAA report recognises the crisis in confidence surrounding the safety of offshore helicopter transfers and puts forward a number of interventions and recommendations that workers will tentatively welcome. Unite has called for as part of our ‘Back Home Safe Campaign.’

“However, the fact remains that the CAA cannot enforce its full raft of recommendations on the helicopter operators and the wider offshore industry, serving only to strengthen calls for a full public inquiry into helicopter safety that can help bring about the wider safety reforms that are undoubtedly needed.”

The RMT’s Bob Crow described the report as a “step towards the improvements that his union had supported for years”. Balpa’s Jim McCauslin said “pilots would welcome the ban on flying in adverse conditions”.

Labour’s shadow Scottish secretary Margret Curran called for the CAA, the industry and trade unions to work together to implement the recommendations.

The CAA’s chair, Dame Deirdre Hutton, said she expected that the helicopter operators, the oil and gas industry and EASA to move forward with recommendations to them as soon as possible.

Unite and the off-shore unions are keen implement the report’s findings. Our members work in often dangerous and treacherous conditions – unions have been calling for a much tougher stance – with no compromises on safety on all of the installations operating in UK waters.

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