Canadian Manufacturing

Injured worker alleges Shell compromised safety in rush for Arctic oil

Worker claims work deadlines created a "culture that disregarded basic safety and created dangerous conditions"



SEATTLE—A woman who was permanently injured while working on one of Shell’s Arctic drilling support ships has sued, saying the company compromised safety in its rush to drill for oil.

The lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Seattle by Anita Hanks said Shell and its contractor maintained dangerous work conditions on the Arctic Challenger as it prepared to drill in the Arctic in 2012. The oil spill containment vessel is part of Shell’s drilling fleet. It was docked in Bellingham at the time of an accident.

Shell spokesman Curtis Smith declined to comment, saying “we don’t comment on pending or ongoing litigation.”

Shell’s Arctic drilling plans have been the target of protests by environmental groups, Native American tribes and others who are concerned about the fragile environment off the coast of northwest Alaska and the wisdom of pursuing fossil fuels instead of investing in renewable energy sources that don’t contribute to climate change.

According to the federal complaint, Hanks was hired to work on the Arctic Challenger as a “fire watch” in May 2012 by a Shell contractor Greenberry Industrial, based in Vancouver, Wash. She said she was told that Shell had ordered work on the vessel completed by July so that it could head north if drilling permits were granted.

Her new boss told her that in order to meet that schedule, “we would have to agree to 16 hour work days as necessary, or be replaced,” the lawsuit said.

Hanks said she immediately became concerned with the lack of experience of the people around her and the “culture that disregarded basic safety and created dangerous conditions in order to speed up the completion of the job, resulting in sloppy and injurious work practices and the risk of death and serious injury.”

As a “fire watch,” Hanks worked with welders to ensure their flames did not set anything ablaze, but she cited numerous situations that fell short of appropriate safety standards.

“The safety culture was vastly different and inferior to that anywhere else I had worked,” she said.

Hanks said she was trying to hold up a fire blanket when a defective ladder collapsed. She fell and broke several bones in her leg. She had to undergo several surgeries and was partially disabled, she said.

“It was just the latest example of a workplace culture that devalued safety and fire watch in favour of speed and sloppy practices to get the rig completed and out of there to meet an artificial and unrealistic deadline,” the lawsuit said.

The complaint names Royal Dutch Shell; Superior Energy Services, a Texas company with a division in Bellingham; and Greenberry Industrial. It seeks unspecified damages for pain and suffering and lost wages.

A person at Greenberry Industrial who would not give her name said the company has no comment on the lawsuit. Messages left with Superior Energy Services were not immediately returned.

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