It is estimated that decommissioning the UK’s oil and gas infrastructure will cost £47 BILLION between now and 2050.
With the current downturn in the oil market, this represents a significant opportunity for businesses in the North East with a surplus of suitably skilled workers.
The Oil and Gas Authority estimates that there are more than 250 fixed installations, 250 subsea production systems, 3,000 pipelines, and approximately 5,000 wells that will need to be decommissioned.
Decommissioning offshore installations will involve some risks not normally associated with drilling and production. And these risks will require appropriate assessment by employers to ensure the safety of the workforce carrying out the work.
It is the duty of every employer to ensure – so far as is reasonably practicable – the health, safety and welfare of their workforce. The method of achieving this is imposed on employers under Section 3(1) of the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999, so they can identify the measures they need to take to reduce those risks to as low as reasonably practicable.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has recently proposed changes to risk assessment guidance, citing a concern that many people see the requirement to record significant findings of a risk assessment as something separate from other things they do to manage their business.
The HSE has stated that “a risk assessment is not about creating huge amounts of paperwork, it is about identifying sensible measures to control the risks in your workplace. We want to put more emphasis on controlling risk and less on written assessments.”
Employers with five employees or more are still required by law to document the significant findings of any assessment, and a failure to do so will make the defence of any HSE prosecution nearly impossible.
The HSE appears to be challenging the traditional method of creating a specific “risk assessment” document, suggesting that employers may have already documented the findings of their assessment of risk in other documentation such as guidance to employees and method statements. This information does not require to be duplicated in a “risk assessment”.
Yet at the same time, the HSE suggests recording findings on its “risk assessment template”. Given that a defence to HSE prosecution is to demonstrate that you followed HSE guidance, the proposed changes appear somewhat ambiguous and employers should not be disposing of their risk assessments just yet.
Employers entering in to the decommissioning market will have to be aware of new risks, assess those risks and implement control measures to avoid potential prosecution in the event of an accident.
Hopefully we will never be in a situation where we need to assess the human cost of decommissioning – and proper risk assessment is one step businesses can take to do just that.
Stuart Mackie is a Partner in Thorntons Private Client team. If you have any questions about this, or any other Health and Safety related issue, please contact Stuart on email@example.com or call 01382 229111.