A sacked electrician has flagged up concerns over the safety of an off-shore oil rig, believing there to be around 90% of the platform currently unsafe for use.

This particular case, which took place on a platform known as Deep Penuke off the coast of Nova Scotia, involved an electrician being allegedly dismissed from his position because he kept finding dangerous faults on the platform.

Keith Black, who lives in Slaley near Newcastle, said:

“The main reason why my contract’s been terminated was because I was finding too many problems with the facility and they wanted me to leave.

“You have to understand that the main thrust of the platform is to get this up and running and that’s not happening. And it’s not going to happen for a long time.”

The company which employed him, SBM Offshore, sees things very differently. In a letter to Black from Francis Vincent-Genod (SBM’s human resources director) said Black was dismissed because he “continued to refuse travel itineraries when offered and did not attend mandatory training course(s) when requested.”

“It is recognised that you alerted the onshore and offshore Deep Panuke management to safety concerns,”  Vincent-Genod writes.

“Your concerns were taken seriously and SBM then launched an external investigation, conducted by a subject matter expert. Measures have been put in place to rectify your findings. The investigation did not find any evidence to connect your dismissal on the grounds as explained above with your actions, competence or abilities on the Deep Panuke.”

“We feel quite strongly about what’s happening now because we believe that this is a real unfair attack on our reputation.”

Black has however stood by his findings, stating that the equipment around Deep Panuke isn’t of the right design to prevent an ignition scenario.

“If it’s not fit for that purpose, it could create a spark and blow the platform up,” Black said.

“When we started doing a survey on board (Deep Panuke), there was a 90 per cent failure (rate), which is unheard of. I’ve never come across this in my life. This was thousands of pieces of equipment. So 90 per cent of it was not fit for service.”

The use of equipment on off-shore drilling platforms must be correctly installed to not produce a spark, as even something as a simple spark could combust the natural gas on the platform and create a massive explosion. Intrinsically safe equipment is used instead, which is purpose-built for use in dangerous environments and designed not to cause dangerous sparks.

Thankfully SBM is taking steps to rectify the problems Black flagged up during his employment, and in May this year they employed an auditor to assess the platform’s equipment in order to find out exactly how bad the equipment was.

The audit ultimately found that some 10,000 pieces of equipment were deemed unsafe, and the production of natural gas isn’t possible until all of these concerns are addressed and the creation of a safe working environment is 100% certified.

SBM is said to be using an outside electrical company to complete the necessary amendments, which could take up to three months depending on the work force.

Concluding his statement, Black said:

“They’re going to just say, ‘He’s got an axe to grind,” (referring to SBM)

“I haven’t. But I don’t think it’s right, what they’re doing. And yes, I’m really shooting myself in the foot here (in terms of finding other employment in the sector). But some things are wrong.”