Feb 192010

Unanswered concerns about Ill-fitting survival suits, a lack of underwater breathing gear and worries about helicopter incidents have been attacked by the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union in Canada. Brian Murphy, a local vice-president of the union, which represents about 700 offshore workers, made the call at an enquiry into the March, 2008 crash of a Cougar helicopter 60 kilometres east of St. John’s, Newfoundland.

Only one of the 18 people aboard the helicopter survived the crash, Robert Decker, who gave evidence to the enquiry. he believes that a large tank situated on the left side of the cabin between double seats and the windows would have complicated any escape.

His view is disputed by but the Canada-Newfoundland and Labrador Offshore Petroleum Board, which regulates oil activity in the region. It says that fuel tanks in the passenger cabin do not increase the hazard involved in helicopter transport, which it describes as ‘inherently risky’.

Murphy said workers who travel more than 300 kilometres to three offshore sites shouldn’t have to ride next to an auxiliary fuel tank in the passenger cabin.

There has been no discussion as to whether helicopter underwater escape training, HUET, should include negotiating obstacles in a helicopter which is sinking fast. Currently most HUET does not.

The union has called for major changes in what it describes as a corporate culture in which workers’ concerns go unanswered or were given short shrift. Media reports say that although the union acknowledges that there had been improvements since the crash, it called for more realistic training and open communication, among other changes.

Murphy also wants any helicopter that turns back to shore for technical problems to be considered a “potential ditching” that triggers a search and rescue response.

Sheldon Peddle, local president of the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union, said there has to be a way to ensure worker concerns about helicopter safety are not just heard but acted on. “Some of these issues … they’ve been around for a long time. And it doesn’t seem like there’s a way to get anything changed once we bring it up and we talk about it,” he said.

The Canadian Transportation Safety Board is still investigating the cause of the Cougar crash.

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