Shell oil last week unveiled annual profits of £13.9 billion – the highest recorded profits for any British-listed company.
Safety conditions on Shell’s five oil platforms in the North Sea have been called into question amid claims that a manager in charge of the rigs believes the backlog of maintenance has reached “appalling levels”.
In a leaked email, it is alleged a manager warns that the Health & Safety Executive could close the operations unless standards improve, and that disciplinary action will be taken against workers who refuse “reasonable requests” to do overtime.
Shell’s platforms, which are up for sale, are maintained by Sigma 3, a consortium comprising Amec, Petroleum Services, Network and Wood Group.
Unions have long complained about a lack of investment in Shell’s rigs and of pressure to work longer hours to improve safety standards. Last year the HSE issued a damning report saying that maintenance on many of the 100-plus platforms in the North Sea was “unacceptable”, but did not name names.
In the email, written last November, the manager writes, “Backlog on safety critical systems is at appalling levels by any standard and is an issue with the HSE.” Any contractor who refuses a “reasonable request to work overtime will be subject to relevant disciplinary procedures,” he warns.
The email was leaked to Jake Molloy, the general secretary of the Offshore Industry Liaison Committee (OILC), the union representing North Sea workers.
He said it was an admission by the company that standards on the platforms were poor and called on Shell to put some of its record profits into improving things.
“More investment, not forcing people to work longer hours, is what is needed to improve safety. Perhaps sufficient manning and not industrial gangsterism is the solution,” wrote the manager.
He added that workers are being forced to do 13-hour shifts, which the HSE had said in its report would be excessive.