TWO offshore companies were fined a total of £1.2m yesterday after admitting safety breaches which led to the death of a North-East oil worker.

Father-of-two Matthew Grey, of Darlington, was killed and fellow worker Norman Jackson, of North Shields, North Tyneside, was injured while working on the Bleo Holm 70 miles north-east of Aberdeen on January 6 last year. The two men were inside a cargo oil tank 20 metres below the vessel’s deck when the tragedy happened.

Both Aker Kvaerner Offshore Partner Limited employees were contracted by boat operators Talisman to carry out extensive work in the tank.

But a series of safety failures led to the death of the 60- year-old pipe fitter, who had been due to retire.

They were struck by two steel beam clamps while hoisting material to the deck above.

Aberdeen Sheriff Court heard that they were working in the tank with colleague Christopher Linney –- despite safety procedures allowing for a maximum of two men in the confined space.

Procurator Fiscal Ernest Barbour said Aker Construction superintendent Samuel McKellar had arranged work permits, but these were later amended in his absence, specifying a maximum number of two people in the tank.

He said the three men had not used radio equipment and had relied instead on hand signals when hoisting the material up to the crew through the small shaft on the deck above.

Mr Barbour said: “It appears that a part of the load that was being lifted, which the work party in the tank thought had gone out through the hatch, fell down inside the tank.

“The items that fell were the four angle clamps and shackle. One of the yellow angle clamps appears to have struck Matthew Grey, the second yellow angle clamp appears to have hit a large valve lying on the scaffold deck, bounced and hit Norman Jackson.”

A medic rushed to the scene and Mr Grey was pronounced dead a short time later.

The court heard there was a “failure in communication”

between the Aker superintendent and the Talisman Area Authority which issue permit changes.

Mr Barbour also said Aker failed to ensure risk controls were implemented.

Talisman’s solicitor, Jack Davidson, said the oil company had taken on a raft of new procedures to ensure the tragedy did not happen again.

“It was not an operation that should have gone wrong.

There were a number of failures on behalf of my client’s company, particularly in relation to the conflict of having these two activities (lifting and cutting) taking place at the same time.”

Aker’s solicitor, Rhona Jamieson, also apologised for the failures leading to the fatality.

Sheriff Douglas Cusine commended both companies for changing procedures following the tragedy.

The companies were each fined £600,000. Talisman admitted a failure to provide a safe system of work, identify the risks involved of lifting and cutting operations and ensuring the procedure was properly planned.

Aker Kvaerner admitted failing to provide a safe system of work and failing to ensure the correct number of people allowed to work during the procedure.