AROUND 170 workers at a Fife chemical plant have staged a walkout over safety concerns.

The GMB Scotland union said the workers, understood to be mainly contractors from the civil engineering firm Bilfinger, left the Mossmorran site on Wednesday.

The plant, which is restarting after closing last August, faced criticism after “intense flaring” at the site last week sparked alarm in the community.

Many residents took to social media to complain about the flares from the plant near Cowdenbeath, which could be seen for miles on Thursday night.

A GMB Scotland spokesperson said: “Relations between the workforce and management have been deteriorating for some time. Workers have continuously raised their concerns about conditions and safety on-site but have frankly been ignored.

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“You can’t operate a major gas terminal this way and it shouldn’t be beyond the capabilities of Exxon and their subcontractors to ensure workers feel safe and valued.”

ExxonMobil has been contacted for comment about the walkout.

It previously said the flaring last week was part of work to restart operations at the ethylene plant, which has been closed since last August for maintenance work.

In 2019 the company announced a £140 million plan to reduce flaring and improve infrastructure at the plant.

The Scottish Environmental Protection Agency (Sepa) launched a formal investigation into unplanned flaring at the Mossmorran plant last April, following hundreds of complaints from local residents about a chemical smell and rumbling noise.

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In August, the regulator varied the operating permits for ExxonMobil Chemical Limited and Shell UK Limited, which share the site, requiring them both to address the impacts of flaring and install noise-reducing flare tips.

Data published by Sepa on Wednesday rated ExxonMobil’s environmental compliance at the Mossmorran site as “poor” for the second year in a row.

The National: Mark Ruskell called the Mossmorran plant an industrial relicMark Ruskell called the Mossmorran plant an industrial relic

The Scottish Greens MSP and spokesperson for climate and energy, Mark Ruskell, said: “The Mossmorran workers are absolutely right to take a stand.

“This comes on a day when Sepa, which monitors the risk of pollution or environmental damage, has rated the site ‘poor’.

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“Mossmorran is an industrial relic and the front-line of our climate emergency challenge.

“Not only has the site been causing misery for the local community with unplanned flaring, now we hear staff are concerned about safety.

“This community faces an uncertain future, with no attempt to build sustainable alternative jobs in the area.

“Neither ministers nor operators have engaged enough with this community.

“The plant must be made fit for a net-zero carbon Scotland or they must plan well ahead for closure.”

Annabelle Ewing, SNP MSP for Cowdenbeath, said: “When workers’ fears over conditions and safety on a site such as this reach such a level that they feel pushed to walk out of the door, then we should all be very concerned indeed.”

A spokesperson for Bilfinger UK, said:“Workers employed by a separate contractor at the Fife Ethylene Plant in Mossmorran staged an unofficial industrial action on Monday, which a number of our employees joined with unofficial sympathy action. This action resulted in a dispute over payment for the time our employees had withdrawn their labour.

“We are now working closely with our employees and the trade union, Unite, to quickly resolve this dispute.

“There is no dispute relating to working conditions, welfare, redundancy measures and health and safety between Bilfinger employees working at the plant and Bilfinger UK. We maintain an open dialogue with our employees and have rigorous health and safety processes in place, with no incidents reported since the contract began in September 2019.

“Our continued focus is on the ongoing success of our operations at the plant, safeguarding the long-term employment of our skilled and experienced workforce.”