Have Oil Companies Ignored Workers’ Safety?By Peter Appleby | Wed, 05/20/2020 - 17:07
The death toll among PEMEX workers from COVID-19 continues to rise and with it, the criticism that began in March after PEMEX’s failure to implement sufficient safety measures against the fast spread of the virus.
According the government mouthpiece Notimex, as of yesterday, PEMEX has reported 153 deaths of its workers, 5,635 suspicious cases and 1,187 positive cases in total. Several thousand offshore PEMEX workers, including subcontracted employees, have so far been transported ashore. According to Ejecentral, a total of 5,500 workers in Cantarell and Ku-Maloob-Zap fields in Campeche will be evacuated from platforms.
Leaders of the Petroleum Workers of Mexico (PETROMEX), including General Secretary Yolanda Morales Izquierdo, have raised complaints against the national oil company for what they claim is a lack of protocols put in place to protect workers, reports Milenio.
Excerpts from the letter sent to PEMEX Director Octavio Romero by Morales Izquierdo and published in Milenio explain that social distancing measures were not adequately maintained on offshore platforms due to “a lack of will and ability by those responsible for human capital and labor relations in PEMEX.”
The design of maritime platforms leaves little room for movement of personnel. Sleeping quarters tend to be cramped and shared by several workers. Eating areas are similarly small. Law firm Arnold & Itkin LLP notes that offshore platforms tend to suffer from very limited medical care capacity.
But PEMEX is not the only company to have fallen under scrutiny. In the UK, the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) has criticized companies working in the North Sea. According to Energy Voice, the RMT, which represents 83,000 works, carried out a survey of oil and gas members in which 43 percent said they had not received any PPE gear. Just 15 percent of the workers would be entitled to sick pay should they fall ill with the virus and require quarantine time.
This comes after a reported 4,000 jobs, almost 40 percent of the total workforce, were cut in the North Sea in March as companies attempt to curb the virus’ spread, says The Guardian.
Two weeks ago, Energy Voice reported that a total of 382 workers were medevaced ashore from platforms in the North Sea with suspected COVID-19 cases in the six proceeding weeks, while around 20 new cases a week were being witnessed.
As of April 8, 26 workers on the US side of the Gulf of Mexico had tested positive for the virus on seven of the region’s 680 platforms, reports Forbes. Further afield, at least 401 workers in Kazakhstan’s Tengiz Field have tested positive for the virus said Gasoil News.
The pandemic has caused experts from every industry to rethink the working processes and environments within their areas. In Mexico, the government’s reopening plan has set a stringent list of health and safety rules that factories and offices will need to meet before they are deemed safe to be opened.
But oil and gas working conditions, including offshore platforms, remain a challenge. The need to reduce space and the proximity that personnel on board must be in is a challenge that companies will have to overcome as they kick on in production.