Oil rig work is one of the most dangerous areas of employment you’ll encounter on the water – or anywhere.
With constant exposure to harsh weather, hazardous conditions, and dangerous machinery onboard the rig itself, oil rig workers are faced with a unique set of hazards and challenges not seen anywhere else, even in other forms of maritime work. A report from the American CDC revealed that the fatality rate of workers in the oil and gas industry is a whopping seven times higher than the fatality rate for all US workers between 2003-2010.
These accidents can be prevented or avoided, but reducing accidents requires a safe environment to work in and a careful understanding of the causes of these accidents. Below are four of the most commonly seen injuries on an oil rig, their causes, and how it can be prevented:
Due to the process with which oil is extracted from the ocean and processed onboard the rig, many workers are at risk of exposure to hydrogen sulfide if proper care isn’t taken. Exposure to toxic chemicals like this, particularly for prolonged periods of time, can cause respiratory problems, paralysis, cancer, and even death in extreme cases.
Prevention: While working on the rig, particularly in areas with higher concentrations of sulfur and chemicals, all safety protocols such as wearing eye and respiratory connection need to be followed closely. Equipment needs to be frequently maintained to prevent leaks and spills, and safety implements need to be provided by the ship’s owner to ensure workers have easy access to necessary tools and supplies.
Due to their location off the coasts, oil workers spend much of their time being transported to and from the rig using helicopters, boats, and similar vehicles. According to a CDC report, accidents involving these vehicles account for more than half of all fatal accidents involving oil rig operations between 2003 and 2010.
Prevention: Standard safety procedures when travelling by boat or helicopter go double when in the rougher waters that oil rigs tend to operate in. Make sure any vehicles used for transport are properly maintained and are being operated correctly (and within specified limits) to prevent accidents or injury en route to the rig itself.
The design of oil rigs involves being high above the ocean, not to mention the different levels and heights involved with the layout of the rig itself. Falling from heights is one of the leading contributors to oil rig injuries and fatalities, and are typically caused by harsh conditions, carelessness, insufficient safety measures, or some combination of the three.
Prevention: Keep floors clean to prevent slip-and-fall hazards. Check and maintain all fall prevention equipment such as safety railings and harnesses to prevent damage or equipment failure. Be sure to monitor all weather conditions to avoid sudden gusts of wind or changing sea conditions, as these can easily contribute to falling accidents and injuries.
Fires and explosions
The stories have been all over the media lately, from the Deepwater Horizon accident to explosions and fires aboard oil rigs all over the Gulf of Mexico. In any environment that works as closely with oil and dangerous chemicals as oil rigs do, extreme caution must be taken to prevent fires and explosions while working onboard a rig.
Prevention: The causes of fires can be vast and wide-ranging on an oil rig, and the prevention of these fires requires the cooperation of everyone on board. Flammable materials must be carefully monitored and handled and stored properly. Electrical work needs to be done by professionals using carefully-maintained equipment to prevent damage and reduce fire risk. Any welding being done needs to be done as far away from open gas, chemicals, or oil as possible. Finally, fire safety precautions need to be implemented throughout the entire rig to make sure any potential or developing fires are contained as quickly as possible.
These are just a handful of the risks and dangers oil rig workers face every day, and proper care needs to be taken by all onboard to prevent these hazards. If you work on an oil rig and have been the victim of an oil rig injury, you need the Jones Act lawyers of O’Bryan Law to fight for your rights.