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Total to launch safety inquiry at gas plant

One of the pictures taken by Brian Wishart while he was still working on the pipeline. Pic. Brian Wishart

OIL giant Total is to launch an investigation into allegations of serious breaches of health and safety at its gas plant construction site in Shetland.

Italian contractors Sicim have been brought in to lay the 4.5km onshore pipe for the £500 million gas plant, that will process gas from the Laggan-Tormore field 100 miles north west of the isles.

However 64 year old contractor Brian Wishart who started work on the pipe-laying project three months ago has downed tools, accusing his employers of taking too many risks in trying to get the job done too fast.

Mr Wishart has produced photographs of men working underneath a pipe weighing many tonnes as it is suspended in the air.

He said he had heard of an incident where a pipe fell to the ground just five minutes after workers had left the scene, having been working underneath it.

He also accused the company of forcing men to work for nine hours without a meal break, after interrupting them just as they were sitting down to eat their lunch.

“I have never seen working practices like this before. These are the most serious breaches of health and safety I have seen,” said Mr Wishart, who has worked in the energy industry all his life.

He said that Sicim appeared to be trying to get the job done as quickly as possible, even though the contract is ahead of schedule, and people were afraid to speak up about it because of fear of losing their jobs.

Total’s Aberdeen-based project manager Robert Faulds said he has launched an investigation after hearing the allegations this week.

He said there would be a full safety meeting on site in Shetland on Monday, and he would be coming to the islands later in the week to take the matter further.

Having seen the photographs, Mr Faulds said such working practices were “indefensible” and he had immediately taken steps to address Mr Wishart’s concerns. “These are unacceptable working practices and will cease from immediate effect,” he said.

He said he is also launching an independent investigation into claims that people are scared of speaking out about safety concerns.

He added that people should not be left without food for such a long time. “I personally find it unacceptable. I would not like it to be done to me,” he said.

The onshore pipe is being laid independently of the offshore pipe which will connect the gas plant to the gas field, that the company hopes will become operational in 2014.