As a man who escaped the burning Piper Alpha oil platform, Steve Rae knows more than most about the critical importance of safety on Scotland’s offshore rigs. 

Now the former North Sea driller is to put his experience to work after being announced as new leader of Step Change in Safety, the safety body of the UK’s oil and gas industry.

Mr Rae has spent more than 35 years in the sector, serving in a number of high-profile roles across the world and also as member of Step Change in Safety’s Leadership team. 

But it was his escape and survival from the platform on the night of  July 6, 1988 that left him with an unquenchable desire to make a positive change in the safety culture across the industry.  

Born and bred in Aberdeen, Mr Rae began his career in the early 1980s as an offshore technician and worked on many North Sea installations before being assigned to Piper Alpha. 

He was on duty on the drill platform on the night of the Piper Alpha disaster, and survived by deciding not to follow the established safety plan, which ended up costing many men their lives. 

Speaking publicly about his experiences for the first time on the 25th anniversary of the incident, he said that he had concerns not just about the condition of the platform when he arrived, but also working practices and the way information about critical systems was communicated. 

Piper Alpha suffered a series of crippling explosions and an oil fire caused by a gas leak that could have been prevented had those in the control room been aware a crucial safety valve had been removed, but the information was not properly conveyed. 

Mr Rae told how he and his crew heard the first explosion and made their way to the office block, only to learn no-one could access the lifeboats because of the thick smoke covering the platform. 

Split up from from the rest, he decided not to go to the designated muster point in the accommodation block.

He said: “To this day, I’m not sure why I took that decision. But I do remember the corridors were already filling up with smoke.

“By gut instinct or pure chance, this decision may have saved my life 
that night.”

The block, where around 80 men were sheltering, later slid into the sea with 
no survivors. Of the 226 people on the platform, 165 died and 61 survived.  
Mr Rae returned to the drill floor and made his way down the rig  with another colleague, looking for an escape route. 

Eventually, they could go no further and decided to leap from the platform to the water 80 feet below. 

He said: “We went over the handrail and prepared to jump. There was one almighty explosion as one of the gas mains ruptured and then my colleague jumped first. I waited till he surfaced, and then I jumped. I hit the water hard, feet first, and took what seemed like and eternity to come to the surface. I was off, and I was alive.

“As I swam away from the burning platform there was another almighty explosion that sent a fireball down and across the sea towards us. 
“I ducked under, surfacing shortly after and tried to swim up wind, away from the platform”

The chairman of the Pound for Piper charity trust, which provides support towards the upkeep of the North Sea Memorial Rose Gardens and the Piper Alpha monument located in Aberdeen’s Hazlehead Park, Mr Rae has served as vice president of International Drilling Operations at Seawell Americas, vice president of International Drilling and Engineering at Archer – the Well company. 

In 1996, he attended Aberdeen’s Robert Gordon University, graduating in 2000 with an International MBA. 

Commenting on his new role, Mr Rae said: “For me, the role presents a 
once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play a significant part in shaping the future safety culture in our industry. Those who know me personally, or have heard me talk, will appreciate how much this means to me.”