OSLO, Norway, Jan. 27 (UPI) -- Unions representing Norwegian offshore oil rig workers have pulled out of an industry-sponsored group amid harsh criticism of cutbacks in safety training.
The four unions -- Fellesforbundet, Industri Energi, Lederne and SAFE -- announced Friday they have suspended their membership in the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association's Network for Safety and Emergency Response Training, NSOB, which was established in the wake of the 1980 Alexander Kielland platform disaster in which 123 people died.
The unions said they made the move reluctantly but were forced to make a statement after the industry group unilaterally instituted "a number of changes that impair safety and emergency training on the Norwegian continental shelf" despite vociferous objections of workers.
The industry group, however, said the changes are being made to make safety training better and more efficient.
"It was not an easy decision, but we cannot sit still and watch the employers of Norwegian Oil and Gas ignore the employees' objections in such an important area," Fellesforbundet Secretary Mohammed Afzal said in a statement.
Afzal said he hoped the move will be "noticed by the authorities" and that the Petroleum Safety Authority Norway, PSA, will take back control of safety and emergency training offshore.
The unions contend training in everything from putting out fires, evacuations, saving lives and various rescue procedures has been weakened and replaced by the new curriculum, which was "instituted unilaterally without participation from employees."
"For us, it appears that cost savings and superficiality have taken precedence at the expense of safety and emergency response," Afzal said.
Training in lifeboats, man overboard procedures and search and rescue teams have been cut by approximately 50 percent under the new rules, the unions claimed, with further plans to transfer exercises that have been carried out on land to offshore, thus "weakening the quality of training considerably, without proper instructors and on top of 12-hour shifts.
"This means that vital exercises and training will have to be done offshore on top of the 84-hour workweeks on the platforms. It is completely unacceptable," Afzal said.
The NSOB is intended to function as "the specialist point of contact for the industry with regard to safety and emergency response training," the Norwegian Oil and Gas Association says, with participants coming from member companies, unions and the Norwegian Shipowners Association.
The role of the forum is to recommend minimum safety requirements for working offshore and to ensure that all personnel on installations receive a minimum of necessary training needed to ensure their own safety.
It is then the operator's responsibility to establish internal control systems to ensure that the guidelines are followed.
"In Norway, we began taking safety seriously by Alexander Kielland accident in 1980, in which 123 people died. But now we see that the number of teaching days have been shrinking for several years and the change now is dramatic," Roy Erling Furre, vice president of SAFE, told the Norwegian daily Aftonbladet.
Norwegian Oil and Gas Association spokeswoman Maiken Ree said the industry group is looking seriously at the union's resignation from NSOB, adding the door remains open if the former partners wish to return.
She added NOGA does not agree with the criticism.
"First and foremost, this is about efficiency, to have less downtime and a better overall product," Ree told the Norwegian news agency NTB. "We believe the change will strengthen training for search and rescue teams offshore, making it better," she said.