hseAn offshore services company has been heavily fined by the courts after a worker died after falling from an oil rig into the North Sea.

Bilfinger Salamis UK Limited was ordered to pay fines and costs of over £100,000 after the Aberdeen Sheriff Court found that health and safety breaches by the company had caused the death of Mr Lee Bertram, an employee of the company’s, on 16 June 2011.

On the day in question Mr Bertram was using ropes to abseil down below the deck of the oil rig and check for objects that could drop onto divers who were working below the platform. Mr Bertram finished his sweep and ascended to the deck. In order to access the deck he had to suspend himself below the hatch to the deck in order to open the rope protector, allowing him to move through the hatch.

However, as he pushed down on his foot loop to climb through the hatch both the main rope and the safety rope caught on a sharp edge on the edge of the hatch and split, causing Mr Bertram to fall almost 70 feet to the sea below, striking the steelwork of the rig as he fell. His lifejacket deployed and inflated when he hit the sea, allowing the crew to rescue him, but he died from his injuries before he could be carried to the rig’s hospital.

The Health and Safety Executive (“HSE”) were notified of the accident and investigated. The HSE’s investigation found that Bilfinger had failed to carry out a proper risk assessment and that it had failed to properly plan the work – inspectors concluded that had the work been properly planned then the edge of the hatch would have been identified as being sharp and the risk of ropes shearing on the hatch could have been prevented. The HSE investigation also found that the job Mr Bertram was undertaking was contrary to both the industry guidelines and the company’s own procedures.

The case came to the Aberdeen Sheriff Court on 2 February 2015, with Bilfinger pleading guilty to breaching Regulation 4 of the Work at Height Regulations 2005. The company was fined £100,000.

HSE inspector Katie McCabe commented on the court case: “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.”

Marc Hadrill, a solicitor at Redmans, commented on the case: “When employees are working at height, employers must ensure that this work is properly planned, adequately supervised, and carried out in a manner which is so far as reasonably practicable safe. The HSE and the criminal court found that in this instance the company had failed to take those steps.”

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