Plans for work group to sort out lifeboat dilemma, new Step Change boss says

A North Sea safety chief has revealed plans to assemble a new work group to tackle the thorny subject of offshore lifeboat evacuation training.

Steve Rae, executive director of membership body Step Change in Safety, said he wanted industry, watchdogs and unions to help develop new guidance that would “bring everyone together”.

It was reported last week that the UK’s safety regulator was at odds with BP over the energy giant’s decision to use “simulated” lifeboat training instead of physical drills.

BP said its programme was an “example of good practice” which would “enhance workforce familiarisation with lifeboat operation”.

The firm appealed the Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE’s) improvement notice for the Glen Lyon production vessel.

BP also point out that operators had “differing practices” in the North Sea and called for an industry standard to be set.

Trade union boss Jake Molloy accused BP of “sending the wrong message” and claimed its approach could cause staff members to consider the boats “dangerous”.

It was suggested that a legal dispute between BP and HSE would be lengthy and extremely costly.

Mr Rae, a survivor of the Piper Alpha disaster, said: “Step Change in Safety intends to form a work group that will be made up of representatives of the industry, the HSE and unions.

“We will plan and put together a timeline with some expectations around delivery on where we need to go with this to ensure it does not lie dormant and rely on legal counselling all the time.

“It’s not health for the industry, it’s not healthy for members or the workforce.”

Mr Rae, who took up the reins at Step Change last month, said the safety organisation had to be proactive and seen to be the “voice of collaboration and reason”.

He added that Step Change wanted “best practice” that companies can follow to satisfy the regulator that industry is “doing its best to look after and prepare the workforce” in the event that they have to board lifeboats and leave the platform.


Mr Rae said he was relishing the “massive opportunity” to have a positive influence on offshore safety in his new role.

He is in his fourth week as executive director, and described the role as a “perfect fit”.

The Aberdonian said he was aware of the need to bolster the team of support staff at the organisation.

Mr Rae said: “I have a support group that has been working very diligently to keep Step Change relevant and deliver solid products and services.

“Immediately I knew I had to put in a significant amount of effort to just build a team and get a culture of trust around the organisation.

“I have two positions that we will fill in the next few months, which is exciting but means running a tight ship just now.

“I have to be aware of that. Without throwing any new initiatives or visionary loads onto the existing staff, I just have to be mindful there is a support organisation behind this Step Change journey.

“They have to be my focus for the foreseeable, until we get the team back up to speed, so that was an early observation for me.”

Mr Rae, who joined Step Change after leaving decommissioning firm Well-Safe Solutions, said he would never forget his experience of the night of July 6, 1988, when he survived the Piper Alpha disaster, which claimed 167 lives.

“I chose many years ago to turn that into a positive driver for myself,” he said. “That’s why I’m still in the business 30-plus years on.”

Mr Rae is chairman of the Pound for Piper charity, which supports the up-keep of the North Sea Memorial Rose Gardens and the Piper Alpha monument in Hazlehead Park.

He said the role meant he was “reminded by choice” of the impact Piper Alpha had on Aberdeen, the oil industry, and those whose family members perished.

“As long as I’m reminded and I have that mind-set, it will be part of my psyche with Step Change, as well,” he said.

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Craigmill, Pitcaple, Inverurie, Aberdeenshire, United Kingdom, AB51 5HP
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