Shell was accused of presiding over continuing safety problems on a key North Sea platform yesterday as a sheriff's court ruled that the oil company could have prevented the death of two workers there three years ago.
Corrosion was allowing sea water to seep dangerously into the leg of the Brent Bravo production unit while repairs were being hampered by a neglected lift and stairs, said a union official.
"On the very day in which Shell has been criticised for the way it dealt with temporary repairs on Brent Bravo, we have leaks, lifts left broken for six months, and stairs in a dangerous state," said Jake Molloy, general secretary of the union, the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee.
The revelations came as Colin John Harris, sherriff of the court in Aberdeen, ruled in the fatal accident inquiry report that Shell could have prevented the men's deaths if it had properly repaired a hole in a corroding pipeline on the platform.
He said there were also "defects in the system of working" which contributed to the accident in which Sean McCue, 22, and Keith Moncrieff, 45, lost their lives on September 11, 2003.
"The accident ... might reasonably have been prevented if an appropriate temporary repair had been applied to the hole on the closed-drain degasser rundown line, such as a fully engineered repair and not a repair using a neoprene patch and jubilee clips," the sheriff concluded.
The accident has already led to a fine for Shell, which has been under fire from unions and one of its own safety consultants. The firm also failed in this case to set the limits on the work to be done inside the utility shaft of Brent Bravo. The men died from inhaling hydrocarbon vapours while 170m down inside the platform leg inspecting the temporary repair.
Shell said it accepted all the sheriff's criticisms and confirmed it had some continuing problems on the same platform but said it was working hard to sort them out. "We fully accept the findings. Safety is, and will remain, our first priority. In the three years since this tragic incident we have worked hard to understand the root causes of why it happened and have put measures in place to prevent anything like this happening again."
Sources close to the company said there had been a sea-water leak on Brent Bravo but it was fixed last month. The lifts and stairs would all be repaired as part of the upgrading for all offshore platforms. "At this moment there are 260 extra people working [to repair] Brent ... these defects have either already been fixed or are in the process of being fixed and are not safety critical," said a Shell spokesman.
The company said that after the accident it began a thorough review of all its North Sea offshore installations and improved systems and offshore training.
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