Oil giant Shell said it would consider changing North Sea shift patterns as part of a wider review aimed at making its offshore operations “sustainable and competitive”.
The Unite trade union said a recent consultative ballot of contractors on Shell installations showed strong support for industrial action if changes are not made.
North Sea operators and contractors switching to “three on, three off” rotas in a bid to lower costs was widely reported during the oil sector downturn.
The move was condemned by trade union officials, who warned that spending three weeks at a time offshore, instead of two, would have dire safety implications.
A Shell spokesman yesterday said: “We are undertaking a full review of our offshore operating model, including the offshore rota.
“Our objective is to have an offshore operating model that supports our journey to improve the competitiveness and sustainability of our North Sea business.”
Unite launched its ballot at the end of April, around the same time that Robert Gordon University (RGU) published a report saying workers on three-week, equal-time rotas were nearly twice as likely to experience ill health as those on two on, two off shifts.
A leaked report by a safety representative on Shell’s Shearwater platform said the new shift patterns had left workers’ partners “struggling with home life”, with some even being diagnosed with depression.
The report, seen by Energy Voice in March, also warned that problems at home were resulting in crew members being “distracted and not fully focused on the job at hand”.
At the time, Shell it took the safety of crew “very seriously” and that it worked closely with safety representatives.
Contractors on Shearwater are understood to have a three on, three off schedule, though Shell employees work to a three on, four off rota.
Unite balloted about 400 members, with a return of 66% achieved. Of those who took part, 92% said they were willing to resort to industrial action.
Unite regional officer John Boland said the union would not act on the ballot result until Shell has finished its review.
Mr Boland said he hoped Shell would take the outcome of the ballot “on board”.
“If there’s no change, we will be back in a dispute situation,” he warned.
Mr Boland added several North Sea operators were mulling changes to rotas after having difficulty finding cover for workers.
Profits at oil producers have improved since an international agreement to reduce output was implemented at the start of 2017.