Sea Gem disaster anniversary acts as safety and health reminder

23 December 2015

The 50th anniversary of the Sea Gem disaster – which killed 13 people – should serve as a reminder of the importance of safety and health in the offshore industry.

Sea Gem rig

The Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) says big strides have been made in safeguarding workers in the sector over the past half a century. But it says ageing installations and the development of new technologies present fresh challenges.

Sea Gem was an oil rig based in the North Sea. It was being moved to a new site on 27 December 1965 when it capsized and crew slid into the icy sea along with equipment. Thirteen died and five were injured.

A public inquiry into the accident led to several changes to improve safety on oil rigs, including having a boat ready to rescue crews.

Simon Hatson, Chair of IOSH’s Offshore Group, said: “The anniversary of this awful tragedy is an opportunity to reflect on what changes were brought about as a result of it.

“There is no doubt that safety standards in the industry are now much more robust. People who work offshore face many risks in very unique working environments, but having the right safety and health management systems in place significantly reduces the chances of them coming to harm.”

An Early Day Motion was tabled in the House of Commons last week (15 December) to mark the anniversary. The motion noted that “many health and safety improvements” have been made and “commended” the work of safety and health practitioners.

It added that there are “considerable challenges still facing the UK offshore industry, including ageing plant, asset integrity and the need for safety-critical maintenance to be prioritised”.

Mr Hatson added: “I am pleased that the 50th anniversary has been marked in Parliament and that there is recognition of the work that safety and health professionals do and the future challenges there will be.

“Health and safety should be a fundamental consideration in the design of work practices in all industries. It is also essential that we seek continual improvement to prevent similar tragedies from occurring.”

Among future offshore developments is the production of the Culzean gas field in the North Sea. This is expected to start producing gas from 2019 and meet up to 5% of the UK’s needs when it reaches its maximum production.

Richard Jones, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at IOSH, said it is encouraging that MPs have recognised the anniversary and the role of safety and health professionals.

He added: “It is absolutely essential, as we look to the future, that we see safe management of existing offshore plants and the safe development of new areas, such as the Culzean gas field and emerging energy technologies.”

Image: An aerial image of the Sea Gem rig, taken before the disaster.