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The way forward - leadership

In June I blogged about the effect the Piper Alpha disaster in 1988 had on the offshore safety regime and the changes that followed, and the extraordinary conference that took place in Aberdeen to mark the 25th anniversary.

I was back in Aberdeen last week to speak at the bi-annual Offshore Europe conference. The event was even bigger than Piper 25 but with a very different feel to it - a huge commercial exhibition alongside the many speeches and presentations. Given the helicopter ditching and the tragic loss of life which occurred off Shetland only 10 days before the conference, it was inevitable that this event was in everyone's minds at the conference - and so it should be. Yet again we had all been reminded of the hazards associated with offshore operations and the tragic consequences when things go wrong.

Anyone who has ever visited Aberdeen will know that the sight of helicopters flying in and out of the airport is a constant part of the scenery, but it is a crucial and hazardous part of the totality of offshore operations which we all too often take for granted - men and women heading for the platforms and rigs to start, or coming home after, two or three week stints offshore. It's a way of life and one which many of us would not choose to do - even though we are all extremely grateful that some do choose to do it - because of the benefits we all derive from their efforts.

The way in which all parts of the industry has responded to the Shetland ditching is important - they have shown leadership in taking the initial decision to suspend flights and in the subsequent decision to reinstate them. There is a maturity of understanding which is shared by everyone that risks can be managed, but they can never be eliminated. The greatest homage the offshore industry can pay to the memory of workers who have died is to demonstrate that it is striving to understand, to make things safer and to implement the lessons learned from tragic incidents. There was a strong sense of that in Aberdeen last week and that sense of unease needs to be maintained - because the hazards never go away.

While HSE is not the lead regulator in offshore transportation, it is important that we acknowledge the impact this latest tragic event has had on the industry and recognise the way in which industry and the workforce have responded - with maturity and leadership. Our continued commitment to providing appropriate challenge to an industry which continues to develop at pace is part and parcel of being an effective regulator but we all stand together when it comes to learning lessons from tragic events.