The health and safety record of the UK’s offshore oil and gas industry improved during 2011-12, new data show.

According to the latest figures from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), the number of leaks that could potentially result in a major incident declined over the year within the sector.

In addition, major and significant hydrocarbon releases fell from 73 the previous year to 52, with a further reduction in minor accidents.

However, the HSE has stressed it is important that the industry does not become complacent and continues with efforts to cut the number of incidents further.

Steve Walker, HSE Head of Offshore Safety, pointed out that the first work-related deaths in the industry since 2007 took place in 2011-12.

“The major gas release from the Elgin platform at the end of March was a salutary reminder of the potential consequences that such releases can present.”

Offshore industry body Oil & Gas UK has welcomed the 2011-12 figures, with Robert Paterson, its Health and Safety Director, stating the data are in line with the organization’s own report on this theme, which was released last month.

“We have seen a continuing fall in the number of hydrocarbon releases to a new low and this is the result of a concerted effort across the industry,” he said.

Mr Paterson insisted that there is a goal to cut this figure further, noting the Elgin leak highlighted the importance of such action and of investigating incidents in which well control is lost. He pointed out that the two reported fatalities from the disaster are a reminder “that we must continue our efforts to identify and implement improvements geared to preventing accidents and protecting our people”.

The expert concluded that maintenance of safety-critical systems is essential to ensuring continuing improvements to health and safety are achieved, after the HSE revealed little progress was made last year to clear a backlog of work in this area.