UK offshore workers' union Unite said in a statement Monday that six maintenance contract workers were exposed to naturally-occurring radioactive materials on the Thistle platform late last year.
The six Wood Group employees were working on a contract for EnQuest to remove pipes on the aging platform. The men said that they worked for twelve hours on the project before they were told that they had been exposed to radiation and may now have an additional risk of developing cancer.
“It was a shutdown so there was a lot of potential contamination. But we were all cleared to go back to work. So we spent a full 12-hour shift, with no protective equipment, in 40 mph winds with all those particles in the air," said Steve Innes, a rigging supervisor. “We received our permits to say all the tests had been done and we were safe. When we got back they told us we should be safe but that they couldn’t guarantee that we wouldn’t develop cancer or leukaemia further down the line because of the exposure."
Innes alleged that the platform operator had not done enough to prevent or to mitigate the damage, and he called the situation "totally unacceptable.”
In a statement, a spokeswoman for EnQuest confirmed that six Wood Group contractors were exposed to naturally occurring radioactive material on the Thistle platform. “The level of exposure was less than one percent of the level at which it is reportable to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). However, EnQuest advised the HSE of the matter at the time," the spokeswoman said. “EnQuest has appropriate control measures in place which are designed to prevent exposure to NORM. Following an investigation, additional precautionary steps have been taken to further ensure that personnel avoid any such exposure.”
A Wood Group spokesman said in a statement that the firm placed a priority on workers' health and wellbeing, and as a precautionary measure, the firm "down-manned [its] employees from the platform in order to conduct medical assessments."
Unite said that the UK Health and Safety Executive does not plan to investigate the incident.
The U.S. EPA says that naturally occurring radioactive elements like radium can end up in produced water in significant quantities, settling out as a sediment or forming mineral scale within pipes and tanks. Concentrations vary markedly, but older fields that rely on well-stimulation generate more produced water and may bring more radioactive material to the surface.