Over the weekend, as Americans were celebrating their nations independence, a far more somber remberance took place in Scotland. July 6th marked the 25th anniversary of the worst offshore disaster of all time.
On July 6, 1988, an explosion ripped through the North Sea oil rig Piper Alpha, and the resulting oil and gas fires, which destroyed the platform, also took the lives of 167 of the 228 men working that day. Saturday, a remembrance service took place in an Aberdeen park, which included a roll call of those who lost their lives in the disaster.
The events on Saturday were not the only ceremonies to call attention to the Piper Alpha tragedy. Members of the Scottish Parliament, including Scotland's First Minister, gathered on June 26 to mark the anniversary of the disaster.
The Scottish Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) held the parliamentary reception at Holyrood not only to commemorate the 167 men who lost their lives, but also to point out a number of present challenges to the safe extraction of North Sea oil and gas. These challenges include aging infrastructur; regulatory questions about new and emerging energy technologies; and the exploration of deeper, less accessible fields.
"The Piper Alpha disaster was a tragedy which not only claimed 167 lives, but left physical and emotional scars which endure to this day for those who survived the events of that terrible night, said Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond. "It was also an event which has brought about fundamental changesand huge improvementsto the way Scotland's offshore industry treats the health and safety of its workers. The greatest tribute we can all collectively pay to the 167 people who lost their lives is never to lose sight of how important this issue is, and to continue to strive together to make sure each and every worker who goes offshore is able to come home safely by making safety the industry's first priority."
Piper Alpha is the worst offshore disaster in UK history. Along with cultural, system, procedural, communication and leadership failures, inherent design failures were a contributing factor, found the subsequent inquiry conducted by Lord Cullen.
Speaking at the parliamentary reception, Brian Appleton, one of three assessors in the Cullen Inquiry, said, "I have heard it said that the Inquiry transformed the approach to safety offshore. I don't accept that. What we did was point out what we believed was the right way forward, a different way forward. The safety management was transformed not by the inquiry but by the operators and the Health and Safety Executive working together in the direction we had proposed. Those are the organizations which have transformed offshore safety.