The IndustriALL delegation at the ILO in Geneva, Switzerland.

Improving safety for oil and gas workers in the Arctic

01.02.2016

A delegation of IndustriALL Global Union affiliates took part in a meeting at the International Labour Organization (ILO) headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, aimed at improving health and safety for oil and gas workers in the Arctic. 

The ‘tripartite sectoral meeting on occupational safety and health and skills in the oil and gas industry operating in polar and subarctic climate zones of the northern hemisphere’ took place from 26 - 29 January.

IndustriALL’s group has been led by Leif Sande, Co-Chair of IndustriALL's Energy Sector Union and composed by gelegates from UK (Unite the Union), USA (USW), Russia (ROGWU), Canada (Unifor), Denmark (CO-Sea/Danish Metal) and Norway (IndustriEnergi).

It was a challenging debate between employers, governments and workers. Discussions about the risks and challenges for workers’ health and well-being in the development and production of oil and gas in the Arctic initially seemed positive. However, the meeting nearly reached an impasse when it reached the point of trying to draft specific policies needed by governments and employers’ and workers’ organizations to improve workers’ health and well-being in the Arctic and identify which tools would best serve in initiating, implementing, monitoring and continuously improving occupational safety and health in Arctic operations.

In the end, conclusions were adopted that included some good points about the unique challenges of working in these extreme environments. Worker participation in risk assessment, protection of workers' rights in medical surveillance, and the need for strong apprenticeship and training programmes were all identified. Workers' rights to refuse or shut down unsafe work were re-affirmed. (A link to the full report and conclusions on the ILO website will be added as soon as they become available.)

Although an ILO Code of Practice (which is a stronger instrument) would have been preferable - a point the workers' group made repeatedly - the meeting report and conclusions should be a useful tool for affiliates in dealings with their employers on appropriate good practices for operations in these climates.