Lies, damned lies and statistics.
I have studied helicopter accident and incident listings for North Sea oil support helicopter ops – from 1990 to 2013 inclusive – and over those 24 years Norway comes out better than the UK by enough of a margin to make you wonder why.
The data comes from our Ascend database, and I have been selective, which has its dangers. I have included all fatal accidents and also non-fatal incidents that resulted in damage, but excluded minor ground incidents that could have happened to anyone, and lightning strikes that marked the helicopter but didn’t bring it down.
When divided into UK and Norwegian sectors, the results for the 1990-2013 period look like this:
Fatal accidents = 5; non-fatal accidents/incidents resulting in damage = 13
Fatal accidents = 3; non-fatal accidents/ incidents resulting in damage = 6
The differences are more dramatic if you take the figures since 1997, which Norway sees as a North Sea safety watershed after it lost a Eurocopter AS331 and crew offshore in that year, and it set up its “Committee for Helicopter Safety on the Norwegian Continental Shelf”, which drew up the “Norwegian Oil and Gas Guidelines” within two years. This committee contains the representatives of every stakeholder in the North Sea oil business, from the workers through the operators to the oil giants themselves. The head of the Norwegian CAA’s Helicopter Safety Section Geir Hamre says it made a big difference, and it’s still very active.
Here are the figures:
UK from January 1998 onward: 3 fatal, 10 non-fatal
Norway from January 1998 onward: Zero fatal, 2 non-fatal.
Now that IS a difference. But why?
The UK also set up its own Helicopter Safety Steering Group (HSSG) in 1997. The two CAAs meet twice a year and learn from each other. They should be getting much the same results.
Is this a matter of luck? Maybe, but we ought to try and understand it. Both the UK and the Norwegian CAA concede that some of the accidents, like the forced non-fatal EC225 ditchings in 2012, could equally have occurred in the Norwegian sector because they resulted from a manufacturing imperfection, not operational or maintenance error.
Meanwhile the HSSG has said: “Following the meeting yesterday [the decision to end the temporary grounding of Super Puma types in the wake of the Sumburgh accident], the Helicopter Safety Steering Group will request that Oil & Gas UK set up an independent review of helicopter transportation. Terms of reference will be developed in partnership with all stakeholders, including the trade unions.”