Think of the UK offshore energy industry and you will be forgiven for thinking mainly of oil and natural gas. But times are changing, and renewable offshore energy production now supplies an increasingly large source of our energy needs (nearly 30% in 2017). In fact, the UK constructed more than half of all new offshore wind power capacity in Europe last year. In February 2018, the Guardian reported that the UK renewable energy sector even broke the previous record for the number of installations in Europe . This suggests that the need for offshore workers is not going to completely diminish any time soon, however, there may be a shift towards installation and maintenance of renewable energy structures, as opposed to workers needing to reside on oil and gas rigs, as fossil fuels become increasingly scarce in future decades.
At present, the offshore population is in the region of 30,000 workers, but as the relatively easy availability of oil and gas within UK reserves diminishes, the industry is seeking to exploit smaller reserves in deeper waters.
What are the main dangers of working in offshore energy?
In terms of fossil fuel extraction, the offshore energy sector has come a very long way since the major disasters of the 1980s including the Piper Alpha disaster off the coast of Aberdeen which killed 167 workers on the 6th of July 1988, due in part to the ongoing work of the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Energy Division. This government entity is charged with ensuring worker safety in the offshore oil and gas industry, with the biggest hazards being fire and explosion during the extraction of fossil fuels from below ground, and processing.
While fires and explosions do pose a significant risk, in practice there are many other risks which must be managed by offshore energy employers including:
- The risks associated with deep sea diving
- Severe weather – exposure to high winds, cold, and waves]
- Working at height
- Slips, trips and falls (including falling from height, and into the sea). The presence of water can significantly increase the risk of slipping when working outside on an energy platform.
- Poor visibility
- Heavy machinery
- High-pressure hoses
- Transportation accidents
- Contact with harmful substances
In the last set of HSE safety statistics for the offshore sector (Annual offshore statistics and regulatory activity report 2016), it was reported there was one fatality in 2016, compared to six in total in the past ten years. The causes of the most recent fatalities were as follows:
2016: Being trapped under a collapsed structure.
2014: One was due to a fall from height, and one occurred during routine lifeboat testing
2011: One resulted from a fall from height and one during while diving.
2016 also saw 20 specified injuries (serious injuries), and 78 injuries requiring over seven days off work.
Around 100 people are injured while working offshore each year, according to Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations 2013 (RIDDOR) figures, this equates to a rate of 326 for every 100,000 workers, which is markedly lower than 2014, which saw 469 accidents for every 100,000 workers.
The leading injury type in 2016 was lacerations, followed by fractures, sprains and strains, concussions, and dislocations.
Improving safety in the offshore sector
The statistics show a clear trend towards improved safety when working offshore. This has been achieved by a combination of measures, including:
- Clearer signage and instructions for workers
- Improvements in and greater compliance with personal protective equipment (PPE)
- Regular risk assessments
- Better control of major risks
- Improved training to ensure the safe use of machinery
- Improved prevention of the unintended release of dangerous or flammable substances.
Oil and Gas UK Ltd, one of the industry’s trade bodies, reported at the end of 2017 ‘dangerous occurrences’, which are classified as serious incidents including oil and gas releases, dropped objects, explosions, and fires, are at the lowest levels on record. The same body stated that six oil or gas operators around British waters reported zero dangerous occurrences in the previous 12-months .
Can I claim if I have been injured while working offshore?
Working offshore working undoubtedly comes with greater risks than the average office role on ‘terra firma’. Nevertheless, the employer must identify and control each of those risks, either completely removing them, or at the very least, significantly reducing them.
If you have suffered a serious accident while working offshore, due to the nature and proximity of your occupation, there is a high chance you may be unable to work until you have fully recovered. You may even be unable to return to your profession, depending on the severity of your injuries. As such, any compensation you receive will not only help to cover your medical costs, but also any out of pocket expenses, and past and future loss of earnings.
Crucially, some offshore accident compensation cases may require knowledge of the law in multiple jurisdictions due to the location of the accident and the companies involved, therefore you should carefully select a personal injury solicitor who can undertake this on your behalf.
At Russell Worth Solicitors we specialise in personal injury claims. If you have suffered a workplace injury and would like a free claim assessment, please call us now on 0800 028 2060 or complete our Online Claim Assessment.