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UpstreamOnline: From the start of his working life to retirement from Shell, Bill Campbell was a safe pair of hands

By Upstream staff

BILL Campbell developed a real passion for safety issues from an early age by learning the lessons from UK coal-mining disasters as to how best to protect workers against the ever-present threat of an industrial accident in a high-risk business, writes Christopher Hopson.

Today, as a seasoned technical professional, he can rightly boast at having spent over 40 years as a much sought-after safety expert with wide experience in both the UK mining and international oil and gas industries. “From a very early age I became interested in the behaviours of people who get themselves hurt,” he recalls.

Campbell started his working life in his mid-teens during the 1960s as an electrical engineering apprentice with the UK’s National Coal Board (NCB).

“I guess my early real interest in safety developed during training and working underground. You very quickly realised that to survive in the coal mining industry you needed an almost intuitive sense of how to look after yourself,” Campbell says.

“I witnessed some horrific coal mining accidents… and realised the suddenness of the loss of people. I also saw a lot of people with their heads in their hands who were sorry after the event, even though the circumstances had often prevailed for some considerable time,” he adds.

Campbell qualified with a BSc in Electrical Power and Electronic Engineering at Strathclyde University in 1975 and then returned to the NCB. He made the switch from coal to the oil industry in 1979, moving to Aberdeen to join Shell Expro as a senior commissioning engineer. He worked for Shell in many senior capacities for 24 years until he retired in 2002.

“I got a bit of a shock when I joined Shell because the oil business at that time wasn’t the efficient, modern industry I had imagined,” he says.

“In fact, compared to mining it seemed to me to be a wasteful industry. Also, the technology at that time was what I would consider to be medieval.”

On joining Shell, Campbell was initially involved from 1979 to 1984 in commissioning North Sea equipment that was under construction at Lowestoft on the English east coast.

Later he moved on from this commissioning role to become a senior electrical engineer for offshore commissioning on the Dunlin and Cormorant Alpha offshore installations, and a senior facilities design engineer for modifications to the Dunlin, North Cormorant and Cormorant A installations.

At one stage in the early 1980s he was a facilities design engineer responsible for supervising a troop of engineers who were carrying out minor design changes on installations.

Campbell was one of the first technically qualified offshore installation managers (OIM) when he was put in charge of Shell’s Brent Alpha platform in the UK northern North Sea in 1984.

In 1986 he moved to London to become operations adviser for the Eider platform during the detailed design phase, training operations staff and commissioning modules in Middlesborough. Offshore he worked on Eider construction and then as the operations OIM from first oil.

During 1990 to 1993 he was made asset manager of the Cormorant Alpha platform with an annual operating expenditure budget of around£80 million. During that time he managed the installation of emergency shutdown valves and other safety modifications on Cormorant Alpha, including a new temporary refuge.

Campbell subsequently became Shell Expro’s head of production operations and maintenance strategy from 1993 to 1996, responsible as head of a department that set the standards of competence for essential training and emergency response.

He led a team that reviewed Shell Expro’s internal maintenance and inspection strategy, which for the first time carried out an analysis of Expro’s safety critical production equipment. “It was my department which actually developed the independent internal verification process,” he recalls fondly.

His straightforward, no-nonsense style won him many admirers within Shell, where he is widely remembered for his thoroughly professional approach, rooted in a deep belief in Shell’s business principles and the need to put safety first.

In 1996 he then moved to Shell International Exploration&Production (SIEP) in The Hague where he worked in a variety of posts: serving as a senior maintenance engineer (1996 to 2000); global consultant (1999 to 2001); HSE group auditor (1998 to 2001), and finally internal audit manager (from 2000 to 2002).

He took early retirement from Shell in June 2002.

During that period Campbell led between 27 and 30 safety audits for SIEP worldwide. “Probably around 50% of those were satisfactory and some 50% were not,” he calculates.

It was during that period, in 1999, that he was called back to Aberdeen to carry out the PSMR audit for Shell Expro. It was there that the real story begins. and its sister non-profit websites,,,,,, and are owned by John Donovan. There is also a Wikipedia feature.

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