Bilfinger Salamis fined for fatal offshore incident

  • Exploration & Production

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) UK has informed that an offshore services company, Bilfinger Salamis UK, has been fined for serious safety failings following an incident in which a worker died after plunging 23 metres from a platform into the sea.

Lee Bertram, then 37, from Newcastle, Tyne and Wear, was working for Bilfinger Salamis UK Limited on a Shell-operated Brent Charlie platform in the North Sea when the incident happened on June 16, 2011.

The Brent field is situated on the UK Continental Shelf, 186 km (116 miles) north-east of Lerwick, Scotland, in a water depth of 140 m (460 ft). The field comprises four large platforms: Alpha (a steel jacket), Bravo, Charlie and Delta (concrete gravity-based structures). As reported today by Offshore Energy Today, Shell is preparing plans for the decommissioning of the Brent Delta Platform.

According to HSE, Bertram was using ropes to access below the deck and carry out a sweep for dropped objects that could fall into the water, potentially injuring divers working in the sea below.

Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard yesterday (February 2) that Bertram had successfully abseiled around an area about eight square feet taking photographs and removing debris. He then started back up the ropes and was a metre from the top when he noticed a beam clamp that needed to be removed, which he did with a hammer.

As Bertram started his ascent to the deck he had to stop, suspended, just below the hatch in order to open the rope protector so he could move his ‘jammer’ up the working rope and past the edge allowing him to move through the hatch.

However, as he pushed down on his foot loop to come up through the hatch both the main and the safety rope sheared against the sharp edge and he fell to the sea – a distance of 23 metres – striking steelwork as he fell.

When he landed in the water, his lifejacket inflated and a rescue vessel was deployed. Despite showing some signs of consciousness during the rescue he died from his injuries before reaching the onsite hospital.

“This was a tragic incident and Mr Bertram’s death could have been prevented had Bilfinger Salamis planned the job correctly and put suitable safety measures in place.”

An investigation by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) found that the job Bertram was undertaking had not been properly planned and was contrary both to industry (IRATA) guidelines and the company’s own procedures, HSE said in the press release.

Inspectors concluded that had the work been properly planned the edge of the hatch would have been identified as being sharp and the risk of rigged ropes coming into contact with it could have been prevented, HSE added. Instead, the ropes were rigged against the edge leading them to be severed.

Bilfinger Salamis UK Limited of Pinbush Road, Lowestoft, Suffolk, was fined £100,000 after pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 4 of the Work at Height Regulations 2005.

Following the case, HSE Inspector Katie McCabe, said:

“This was a tragic incident and Mr Bertram’s death could have been prevented had Bilfinger Salamis planned the job correctly and put suitable safety measures in place.

“Assessing the risks of that job properly would have identified that the potentially sharp edge presented a very clear danger to anyone suspended and working on ropes rigged against it.

“However, the company failed to do this so failed to take safety precautions and instead, Mr Bertram fell to his death.”

Update: February 3, 12:25 CET

Offshore Energy Today contacted Bilfinger Salamis regarding the unfortunate incident and asked for the company’s statement regarding the court’s decision. The company’s spokesperson said:

“On 16th June, 2011, Lee Bertram was working as a Rope Access Technician when he suffered a fatal fall whilst working offshore.

“Following the incident we openly communicated with the industry, shared our initial findings, and have subsequently been working with the authorities to fully understand the circumstances of the incident.

“Our thoughts at this difficult time are with Lee’s family and friends.”

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