Tim Swift, OSRL's Quality Manager, talks about Piper Alpha, lessons learnt and improvements made since.
At around 10pm on 6th July 1988, an explosion ripped through the Piper Alpha production platform in the North Sea, UK, that resulted in the deaths of 167 people including two from the rescue effort. Only 61 crew survived and of those, many were badly injured and psychologically traumatised. One week later, Lord Cullen was appointed to chair a public enquiry which would last for 180 days before being published on 13th November 1990.
The lessons learned are applicable across all hazardous industries, not just the offshore oil industry and are every bit as relevant today. They include:
- Management of Change (design issues);
- Personal Safety over Process Safety (fire water pumps on manual start to protect divers);
- Isolation and Permits for Maintenance (pump started before maintenance complete);
- Handover (inadequate transfer of information between crews, shifts and disciplines);
- Safety Culture (complacent — everything’s fine);
- Emergency Response – evacuation.
Have the lessons truly been learned? The hope must of course be ‘yes’ and yet just over a year ago 72 people lost their lives in a fire in a residential tower block in London and emerging lessons-learned from the Grenfell enquiry are showing frighteningly similar learnings; cost-cutting over recommended safety specifications, failure to listen to warnings and complaints.
Perhaps the real lesson learned from Piper Alpha is that there are no new accidents and that we must continue to share and publicise findings across industries so that everyone can benefit from the experience of others.
 Cullen, W.D.: The Public Inquiry into the Piper Alpha Disaster, HMSO, London, 1990