Offshore helicopter safety: Government, CAA and Oil & Gas UK Responses to the Committee's Second Report of Session 2014-15 - Transport Committee Contents

Response from Andrew Haines, Chief Executive, Civil Aviation Authority

Further to the publication of the report of Transport Select Committee (TSC) into the Safety of Offshore Helicopters, I am writing with an initial response from the CAA to those recommendations that were addressed to us.

The safety of those who rely on offshore helicopter flights is our absolute priority and the steps we announced in our February review will result in significant improvements in safety, some of which will be implemented quickly. They include: Prohibiting helicopter flights in the most severe sea conditions to improve the chances of rescue and survival; providing passengers with better emergency breathing systems; modifications to helicopters and survival equipment; and changes to the way pilots are trained. Taken together, we are confident that these will represent a real step forward in improving offshore helicopter safety and build on the many years of progress to date.

Our review actions and recommendations are now being progressed through the CAA's Offshore Helicopter Safety Action Group (OHSAG) that features pilot and workforce representatives, offshore operators and the offshore industry. Significant progress has already been made. For example, the new emergency breathing systems are a major improvement and are already being provided to offshore workers.

In terms of the specific recommendations from the Committee, we have reviewed these and offer the following response.

Recommendation 1. The CAA must ensure that helicopter operators regularly review all safety briefing material to ensure that it is up to date. In addition, the CAA must consult the offshore work force to ensure that safety briefing material is easily understood and fit for purpose. (Paragraph 16).

Helicopter operators are required to ensure that passengers are given briefings and demonstrations relating to safety in the event of an emergency. In offshore helicopter operations, a pre-flight video briefing package has been used, combining input from the helicopter operators (to meet their regulatory responsibility) and industry (to cover their additional, non-mandated equipment such as re-breathers and offshore protocols).

Now that we have mandated the wearing of passenger Emergency Breathing System (EBS) or, alternatively, seating restrictions to afford improved chances of successful escape[2], our cabin safety staff are working with helicopter operators and the oil and gas industry to ensure that pre-flight briefings properly reflect the safety equipment and procedures in use. Our flight operations inspectors regularly conduct inspections of operator processes, including attending their pre-flight briefings before flying on specific flights. As members of the oil and gas industry's Step Change in Safety, Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG), we will continue to liaise closely with the representatives of the workforce to ensure that any issues arising from the presentation of safety information and helicopter briefings are identified and acted upon. Further opportunities for issues to be raised or examined are through the OHSAG where appropriate action and tracking can be determined. Workforce union representation through the RMT, Unite and BALPA are present at both groups.

Recommendation 2. The AAIB must keep crash survivors informed on the progress of investigations. The CAA could learn a great deal by meeting survivors and considering their experiences. (Paragraph 19).

We have made an undertaking to meet survivors of accidents to learn from their experiences and consider suggestions for further improvements in safety and survivability.

Recommendation 4. At the same time, the CAA must be mindful of the effect of its actions and recommendations on the offshore work force and should consult with industry to ensure its demands are realistic and implemented in a way which continues to allow for "maximising economic recovery" as per the Wood Review. We were extremely concerned to hear about how crash survivors wearing safety equipment struggled to evacuate through egress windows after helicopters capsized in the sea. The CAA must set out how it will address that key issue as a matter [of] urgency. (Paragraph 4).

Our new Offshore Helicopter Safety Action Group (OHSAG) features pilot and workforce representatives, offshore operators and the offshore industry and will be the prime group to develop the changes outlined in February. We also engage with the oil and gas industry on a continuous basis through membership of the Oil & Gas UK (OGUK) Aviation Safety Technical Group (ASTG), and the Offshore Industry Advisory Committee (OIAC) Helicopter Liaison Group (HLG) run by HSE under the Health & Safety Commission. We support the oil and gas industry's Step Change initiative, attending the HSSG and participating in ad-hoc working groups as appropriate.

In particular, we have been working with the Step Change Passenger Size Working Group to develop a solution to the issue of passenger/exit size compatibility (CAP 1145 Action A9). This will be informed by the results of the ongoing Robert Gordon University size and shape survey commissioned by OGUK.

Recommendation 6. The CAA must undertake a joint review with its Norwegian counterparts to uncover why more occurrences are reported in Norway, despite its smaller fleet, and publish its findings within 12 months. (Paragraph 38).

We will conduct further work in this area focussing on the reporting culture and identifying any differences. Findings will be reported by 30 June 2015. Work has already been initiated with UK industry to explore differences in the types of events reported internally through company safety reporting systems compared to those reported as occurrences to the CAA.

Recommendation 9. The CAA must use its chairmanship of the Offshore Helicopter Safety Action Group to lead the standardisation of customer requirements for helicopter operators. This is as an opportunity for the CAA to demonstrate its ability and willingness to stand up and lead industry in reducing risk during helicopter operations. (Paragraph 48).

We reported on this area in our February review, stating that market-related issues lay outside the remit of the regulator, but we recommended that helicopter operators "identify a set of 'best practice' standard procedures and engage with their customers to agree how these may be incorporated into contractual requirements." (Recommendation 11). It was anticipated that this work should be completed by Q112015. We also recognised the burden that customer audits potentially have on helicopter operators and recommended that the oil and gas industry "review its audit and inspection practices to harmonise and pool audit schemes to reduce the impact on helicopter operators following the principles described in the Oil & Gas UK Guidelines for the Management of Aviation Operations. (Recommendation 10). It is expected that this work will be completed by 0112015.

In both areas, progress is being made. In the first (contractual standards), the helicopter operators' own Joint Operators' Review (JOR) has engaged with the oil and gas industry to identify where differences need action. We are actively engaged with this work -directly with the JOR and through the Offshore Helicopter Safety Action Group (OHSAG). The issue has been accepted by the UK and the wider global oil and gas industry, and was discussed at the international Oil and Gas Producers' organisation's Aviation Safety Committee on 07 August. The parties are addressing the audit burden issue together through the same mechanisms.

We will appoint an independent expert to separately monitor the safety-related aspects of this collaborative work. If, in our opinion, adequate progress is not being made, we will consider how improvements can be made using regulatory powers.

13 August 2014

2   CAA Safety Directive 2014/001 Offshore Helicopter Operations Back

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Prepared 27 October 2014