Helicopter Safety (North Sea)

– in the Scottish Parliament at on 28 March 2019.

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Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

4. To ask the Scottish Government whether it considers that enough has been done to address workforce concerns regarding helicopter safety in the North Sea since the disaster 10 years ago this week. (S5O-03079)

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

The first of April will mark 10 years since the loss of 16 lives in the Super Puma accident off the Peterhead coast. Our thoughts and, I am sure, those of colleagues in the chamber are with all those who lost a loved one in that tragic event.

Since the tragedy, a range of work has been undertaken by the Civil Aviation Authority, the trade unions and the industry to develop and implement a range of safety measures, including a workforce engagement review that has been led by Oil & Gas UK and has involved the unions and the industry. The CAA will also carry out a post-implementation review of its CAP1145 safety review of offshore helicopter operations, which will be undertaken by an independent CAA team with engagement with key stakeholders including trade unions.

Photo of Lewis Macdonald Lewis Macdonald Labour

The minister will know that, since the disaster 10 years ago, another four offshore workers lost their lives off Shetland in 2013 and another 13 lives were lost in the Norwegian sector in 2016.

The fatal accident inquiry on the Peterhead crash found that it was preventable and, at much the same time, the House of Commons Transport Select Committee acknowledged the case for an inquiry that would look at the commercial pressures that affect helicopter operations. Given that the view of the offshore workforce, the trade unions and many families is very clear, will the Scottish Government now get behind the calls for a full public inquiry before any more lives are lost offshore?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I certainly recognise the sincere concerns that Mr Macdonald has expressed.

I know that he has a strong and long-standing interest in safety in the oil and gas industry, so I very much respect his view on the matter and I continue to engage with him on it.

On the commercial pressures that the member mentioned, I note that aviation safety is reserved to the United Kingdom Government and Parliament under the Scotland Act 1998, but we continue to engage strongly with the regulators, particularly the Oil and Gas Authority, and with Oil & Gas UK and the operators that are present in the oil and gas industry leadership group, which I co-chair with Melfort Campbell. We will continue to raise and prioritise the issue of health and safety in the industry.

It is not the case that we are ignoring the issue—far from it. We are taking it very seriously. The FAI that Mr Macdonald mentioned has come forward with conclusions, but I point out that measures such as prohibiting helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions are already being implemented, and I can write to the member about other steps that are being taken subsequent to the inquiry.

Photo of Tavish Scott Tavish Scott Liberal Democrat

I associate myself with Lewis Macdonald’s sensible question. I ask the minister to reflect on the fact that the Sumburgh crash, which Lewis Macdonald mentioned, is now six years past and there has still not been a fatal accident inquiry. Will the minister at least undertake to speak to the Crown Office to press the case for that fatal accident inquiry to begin, given that the families of those who lost loved ones still have no answers on what happened?

Photo of Paul Wheelhouse Paul Wheelhouse Scottish National Party

I very much recognise the strong interest of Mr Scott and Alistair Carmichael, the local MP, in the role of an FAI. Investigations of deaths and decisions on fatal accident inquiries are, as I am sure the member is aware, matters for the Lord Advocate acting independently. The Scottish Government is providing an additional £5 million in the Crown Office budget for 2019-20 to allow it to continue to increase staffing in response to its increasingly complex case load. I cannot intervene in the direct decision making of the Lord Advocate, but we are making resources available to hold more fatal accident inquiries.

Photo of Liam Kerr Liam Kerr Conservative

Tavish Scott makes a good point. What angers the colleagues and families of victims is that fatal accident inquiries can take years; I believe that one third of inquiries take more than three years. In 2016, the Inspectorate of Prosecution in Scotland made 12 recommendations to speed up and streamline fatal accident inquiries. Of those recommendations, how many have been implemented?

Photo of Michael Matheson Michael Matheson Scottish National Party

I appreciate that the member was not here at the time but, as he may know, we passed legislation on fatal accident inquiries in the previous session of Parliament. I was the minister responsible for taking the Inquiries into Fatal Accidents and Sudden Deaths etc (Scotland) Bill through Parliament. The act that that bill became includes a number of measures to improve the performance and delivery of inquiries, improve engagement with the families involved—which we recognise was a failing under the previous regime—and ensure that there is a charter in place to try to improve performance. I will happily reflect on the member’s points, with justice colleagues, and come back to him with any answers about steps that have been implemented since the act was passed.