Sea Gem Disaster Victims Remembered, Highlighting Offshore Safety

An oil rig based in the North Sea, it capsized and sank Dec. 27, 1965, while being moved to a new location, killing 13 workers and injuring five others.

Marking the 50th anniversary of the Sea Gem disaster on Dec. 27 -- an oil rig based in the North Sea that capsized and sank while being moved to a new location, killing 13 workers and injuring five others -- the Institution of Occupational Safety and Health (IOSH) highlighted the improvements made since then in safeguarding oil and gas workers. But IOSH reported aging installations and the development of new technologies present fresh challenges.

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

"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," said Simon Hatson, chair of IOSH's Offshore Group, "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."

Hatson commented on a motion in the British House of Commons on Dec. 15 to mark the anniversary. The motion stated that "many health and safety improvements" but added there are "considerable challenges still facing the UK offshore industry, including aging plant, asset integrity and the need for safety-critical maintenance to be prioritized."

"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," he said.

Richard Jones, head of Policy and Public Affairs at IOSH, agreed it is encouraging to see recognition of the anniversary and the role of safety and health professionals. "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," he said. The Culzean gas field in the North Sea is expected to start producing gas from 2019 and meet up to 5 percent of the UK's needs when it reaches maximum production.

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