July 6 - Industrial Murder in the North Sea
On this day in labor history, the year was 1988.
That was the day 167 oil workers were killed in the Piper Alpha oilrig explosion in the North Sea.
It is considered the world’s deadliest oilrig accident ever.
Around 10 p.m., the platform essentially turned into a fireball so massive, rescue helicopters couldn’t get near it.
Gas lines ruptured when the night crew accidentally activated a gas pump, down for repairs.
Immediately, the platform was rocked with explosions, first wiping out the control room, then engulfing it in flames.
The platform split in two, its oil derrick toppled.
Most were killed instantly, as the crew quarters were directly above the gas compression module.
Toxic fumes overcame others.
Some jumped 100 feet into the sea.
The platform was completely destroyed.
It took three weeks to bring the fire under control.
Occidental Petroleum later admitted the rig’s design was fundamentally flawed.
But many considered the explosion nothing short of industrial murder.
The rig was notorious for fatalities and near misses.
Jake Malloy, head of the offshore trade union, OILC recalled, “Piper was synonymous with accidents. People would say Piper? Oh, you don’t want to go there. That place is ready to go.”
Conditions were so bad the union pulled its reps off the safety committee.
The next day 115 offshore oil workers in Humberside walked off the job demanding better health and safety conditions.
Subsequent investigation determined Occidental failed to enforce basic maintenance and safety procedures.
Over 100 safety improvements were recommended.
Occidental paid out $100 million to the families, but escaped prosecution.
Today, there is a memorial chapel at the Kirk of St. Nicholas and a memorial sculpture in the Rose Garden of Hazelhead Park, both in Aberdeen, Scotland.