Lawyers with sea legs
Published: 24 Nov 2016
For most lawyers, a penetrating analytical mind combined with an innate understanding of the statute books are the basic tools they need to win a court case.
But for HSE and shipping expert Bruce Craig, he has another asset in the armoury that can be rolled out – to gather crucial evidence for presenting a case on behalf of clients.
The Pinsent Masons partner is one of very few lawyers in the UK who hold an offshore safety and survival certificate. This permits him to travel to oil and gas platforms and offshore installations in search of the facts.
The Aberdeen-based solicitor completed a five-day training course at Maersk Training in Portlethen, which included a simulated helicopter ditching in which he had to kick his way out of the stricken aircraft and a fire training exercise where he had to escape from a blackened room filled with acrid smoke.
Bruce first went offshore 25 years ago when, as a recently qualified lawyer, he investigated three separate accidents – over a three-year period – on offshore installations.
The experience proved invaluable when in 2007 the anchor handling vessel Bourbon Dolphin capsized west of Shetland with the tragic loss of eight lives. Bruce played a central role in the fact gathering exercise which would later lead to a Royal Norwegian Commission hearing in Oslo in which evidence was led over a 25-day period.
Much has changed for the better in the 25 years since Bruce gained his ‘sea legs’ but obtaining offshore safety clearance gives him the ability to mobilise at short notice if a client is at the centre of an unforeseen incident.
He said: “When I first went offshore in November 1991 and for many years afterwards, rig owners and operators would grant me an exemption to travel offshore, but rightly, the rules are much more stringent now and the appropriate offshore survival training is required.
“Going through the survival training was invaluable and admittedly scary, although I would never equate it to the horror of experiencing the real thing when a major incident occurs.”
The UKCS prides itself in having one of the safest working environments in the oil and gas producing world and greater risk awareness and technological advances have played their part in making sure working offshore is as safe as it can be, said Bruce.
“Back then, there was quite a high risk of injury to fingers and hands with people handling pipe on the drill floor of platforms but now, with more automated equipment on the drill floor, there are fewer people working in these areas which reduces the risk of injury.
“Likewise, on cranes and lifting operations there tends to be a lot of blind spots but many cranes now have cameras installed on the boom and there are far fewer crane lifts being done which are blind to the driver.”
Sophisticated alarm systems now make it possible to identify potential gas leaks much more quickly and alarms also reduce the environmental risk when working with materials like powdered cement, which can be lost over the side.
Bruce said: “In years gone by there occasionally could be a certain amount of bravado when dealing with safety matters offshore, but that has disappeared and everyone onboard fully appreciates the importance of working and living safely in what is often a hostile and unnatural environment.
“As one of a very small number of lawyers who has completed offshore survival training, you hope it’s a skill you don’t have to use very often, but equally it does help in placing yourself at the centre of an incident and laying out the facts in the hope that safety can be improved even further for future generations.”