Australian unions claim a “serious mercury poisoning” has occurred at Chevron’s Gorgon liquefied natural gas project on Barrow Island, offshore Western Australia.

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The Offshore Alliance, a coalition between the Australian Workers’ Union and the Maritime Union of Australia, claimed this week a person working for Contract Resources was “drenched” with mercury and/or benzine while assisting in draining the slug catcher at the inlet processing area of the gas plant over the weekend.

Further compounding this problem is union claims that Chevron’s main plant showers were inoperable and the employee was then rushed to a portable shower.

The Offshore Alliance alleges the portable shower also did not work due to the solar power being out of service and the pump being unable to operate.

It also claimed other portable showers were also inoperable as they had not been filled with water, while also alleging the showers around Barrow Island were poorly signposted, if at all.

The worker was then taken to the main medical facility on Barrow Island and decontaminated, with the Offshore Alliance stating it was believed the worker had been exposed to mercury levels of 300 micrograms per litre to his body and 40 micrograms per litre to his mouth.

Exposure to high levels of mercury can result in harm to the brain, heart, kidneys, lungs and immune system.

However, a Chevron spokesperson confirmed to Upstream that the worker involved did not appear to be suffering any adverse effects from the incident, while adding the incident was currently under investigation.

"In line with protocol, the onsite response teams acted immediately," he said.

"We continue to meet our regulatory reporting obligations and keep the relevant government agencies informed. At this time, the clinical picture does not indicate any adverse effect on health from exposure to a hazardous substance, with the individual returning to full duties. Precautionary health monitoring is ongoing."

Investigation launched

The Offshore Alliance claims it formally complained to the regulator over the incident has called for a halt to certain works until Chevron’s occupational health and safety management on Barrow Island is addressed.

“All high risk work should cease until Chevron’s OHS management is overhauled and fixed,” the Offshore Alliance said.

“Chevron are putting the lives of Australian oil and gas workers at serious risk through their incessant cost cutting and gross negligence.”

A spokesperson for West Australian regulator WorkSafe confirmed it had been notified on Tuesday of the incident.

While confirming an investigation had been launched, it added “we don’t divulge any details relating to active investigations”.