Government must improve offshore exploration safety

On the eve of the first anniversary of the Deepwater Horizon disaster the EPMU and MUNZ say the Key government must apply lessons from it and the Pike River tragedy and act without delay to ensure workers have a stronger voice in offshore oil exploration safety, including comprehensive “safety case” and legal liability provisions [1].

The government also needs to legislate for best international regulatory standards and practices, enforce them effectively by increasing the number of inspectors and remove legal uncertainties about companies’ insurance liability obligations.

“The Pike River and Deepwater Horizon tragedies were reminders that workplace safety is not negotiable,” says Andrew Little, joint spokesman for the NZ section of the Trans Tasman Oil & Gas Alliance (TTOGA) of trade unions.

“New Zealand deserves the strictest levels of safety, accident prevention and response, and a comprehensive environmental safeguards regime in its Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), and a dedicated rescue vessel, without compromise or inconsistency.”

“Too often the free market culture says ‘increase productivity and make more profit’ but this devalues the worker’s voice on health and safety issues which isn’t good enough.”

“It’s also about a sensible recognition that some industries are inherently dangerous, such as oil, gas and mining, and people working in them are entitled to the best possible protections going.”

“New Zealand has only one inspector overseeing safety in offshore oil exploration, which is a grave concern after the Pike River and Deepwater Horizon tragedies.”

“The government simply must increase the level of health and safety staffing and monitoring in the most hazardous sectors such as oil, gas and mining.”

“A single Department of Labour oil well inspector monitors health and safety at seven New Zealand installations and is supposed to be guarding against disasters such as the rig explosion that killed 11 workers on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico last year.”

“Australia has one inspector for every three installations, Britain has one for every two and Norway has one per installation. Yet the sole New Zealand inspector is responsible for seven installations as well as all onshore petroleum and geothermal activities, which beggars belief.”

“The Department of Labour inspectorate needs more inspectors and support staff to bring the level here in line with Norway where they have one for each installation.”

[1] The Engineering, Printing and Manufacturing Union (EPMU) represents workers in the oil, gas and mining sectors and the Maritime Union of NZ (MUNZ) represents workers in the maritime and shipping sectors. Together they are the NZ section of the Trans Tasman Oil & Gas Alliance (TTOGA).

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