Oil rig work is among the most dangerous professions in the entire world. Workers are stuck out at sea, working for hours on end. They are under incredible pressure during their long shifts, which can be up to 12 hours. Every minute, they may make fateful decisions that can make the difference between life and a serious injury or death. While oil rig workers might receive high wages, that’s not enough to compensate them for the accidents they often face. While an accident is a worst-case scenario, it happens far more often than people think.
Accidents can happen both on an individual level and on a rig-wide basis. Some individual workers are injured performing work tasks. Even though you may think of these accidents as routine, there is nothing routine about them for the individual worker who is hurt. They are left to deal with the physical effects and costs of the injury.
Other accidents endanger everyone on the rig. Something has malfunctioned, or one worker made an error that puts all employees in harm’s way. These can be mass catastrophe events that seriously injure workers and harm the environment. One only needs to remember the Deepwater Horizon tragedy that took the lives of 11 workers and injured 17 other employees.
More Rigs in Use Mean More Accidents
There has been a dramatic growth of the U.S. oil drilling industry in the 21st century. Both the number of onshore and offshore rigs has increased sharply. Initially, this led to a large uptick in oil rig accidents.
Some increased safety regulations and measures slightly lowered the number of accidents and fatalities. However, this does not take away from the danger of working on oil rigs. Operators are often trying to squeeze as much profit and production as possible from a well. Often, it comes at the expense of worker safety.
There are two different types of oil rigs; onshore and offshore. While they share many of the same hazards, offshore rigs have the added danger of being on the high seas. They can be hit by boats, causing mass fatalities. Onshore rigs have inherent dangers that involve being in the middle of an active oilfield.
Improvements in Oil Rig Safety Are Not Enough
While there have been some improvements in oil rig safety in recent years, increased accidents have taken place in other areas. The most common type of oil rig accident affects individual employees. Oil rig work involves dangerous physical labor. Workers constantly lift and perform difficult work. They may suffer a personal injury on the job. There is a form of workers’ compensation for injured oil rig workers, depending on where the rig was when they suffered injuries. First, they should explore whether they may file a personal injury lawsuit for their injuries.
Many accidents can injure oil rig workers. Although injury rates decreased in the last few years, 200 to 300 workers sustain injuries every year. Serious injuries can cause lasting disabilities.
However, any optimism about improved oil rig safety decreases because administrative agencies underreport accidents. Therefore, the public does not know the true injury and fatality numbers.
Lifting Accidents Are the Most Common
The most common type of oil rig accident occurs when a crane or other machine lifts something heavy. Crane operators must use the proper lifting techniques. They can drop cargo, or the boom can swing and injure people in the vicinity. Crane operator error often causes lifting accidents. In some cases, operator error can cause the release of flammable fluids.
The number of lifting accidents has increased in recent years. Last calendar year, there were 274 lifting accidents nationwide. This was nearly 100 accidents more than the next highest yearly total that occurred over a decade ago. The recent total was made even more alarming because oil production had dropped because of the pandemic.
Fires Are Decreasing but Still Happen Too Often
Fires are usually the second-most common cause of injuries on oil rigs. Here, there is some good news to report. The number of oil rig fires dropped over the last decade. In FY 2010, there were 130 incident reports of oil rig fires. By 2020, this number had dropped to 87. This was not a one-time decrease. The number of oil rig fires has been under 100 each year since 2015. Most oil rig fires are preventable with the proper safety measures. Oil rig operators may have begun to get that point and acted accordingly to improve fire safety.
Musters Increased Dramatically
However, other areas of oil rig operation have become more dangerous. The number of musters roughly doubled in the last decade. These are when employees need shelter in the face of danger or disaster. Many of the incidents reported elsewhere in this post may require muster. The oil rig will have an area on the rig itself where the employees can safely evacuate during a disaster. Eighty-three musters took place in 2020, indicating that the overall level of danger on a rig has increased.
Gas Releases Spiked in 2020
Another common accident on an oil rig is a gas release. This type of incident does not happen often, but it occurred with far greater frequency in 2020. Gas releases can lead to blowouts, some of the most dangerous things on an oil rig. Gas releases usually occur because of a problem with the pressure control system. In some cases, rigs safely contain gas releases before they lead to blowouts or explosions. In 2020, there were 73 gas releases on oil rigs. Between 10 and 30 incidents take place per year.
Some oil rig accidents are not necessarily the fault of the oil rig operator or those on it. Since the rig is at sea, it can collide with boats. Ship captains may not see the rig at night or during bad weather. This is relatively rare, but it can cause serious injuries when it happens.
Two of the rarer but more critical accidents on oil rigs are explosions and loss of well control. Explosions do not happen often, but they can cause serious injuries and fatalities. There are usually between one and four oil rig explosions each year.
Causes of Oil Rig Accidents
The several primary causes of oil rig explosions include:
- Defective oil rig equipment
- Unsafe drilling procedures
- Improper maintenance of the oil rig
- Negligence of an employee operating equipment
A loss of well control is another name for a blowout. This was the cause of the Deepwater Horizon explosion. Here, the surface equipment used on the seabed fails, and there is an uncontrolled escape of oil from the open well. This is a highly volatile and flammable substance that continually erupts without interruption. What makes blowouts so dangerous is that they are extremely difficult to bring under control. They are difficult to reach, and the strong oil flow keeps personnel from getting close enough to cap the well.
There Are Many Dangers When Operating a Rig at Sea
The description of the types of oil rig accidents aims to give you the impression that anything can happen when a large rig many miles out to sea uses technologically complex equipment to extract oil thousands of feet below it. With hundreds of workers and very expensive equipment, this is a naturally dangerous situation. Add to it the drilling company’s profit motive, and it can be a volatile mix.
Oil rig accidents can happen after employees have missed signs that something is wrong. For example, a change in drilling flow can signal a coming blowout. Other accidents can happen in an instant, given how prone fossil fuel is to exploding.
Oil Rig Transportation Accidents
Another common incident related to oil rigs, both onshore and offshore, is a transportation accident. Workers must reach the oil rig. To reach an offshore rig, they must take a helicopter or boat. Trucks go to and from onshore rigs daily, and the roads in the Permian Basin are among the most dangerous in Texas. These fatalities and injuries contribute to the overall reported oil rig accidents.
Injured Oil Rig Workers Need an Experienced Lawyer
After an oil rig accident, injured oil workers or their families (if the worker died in the accident or was severely injured) need to hire an experienced attorney who is experienced in oil rig accidents to establish the cause of the accident. There will likely be an internal and federal investigation, but you need proof and evidence when you file a claim or lawsuit.
While accidents should not happen, the drilling company may claim that what happened was truly an accident, not someone’s fault. They may try to point the finger at someone else, such as an equipment supplier or a contractor. You need to know exactly who did what wrong.
If you are injured while working on an oil rig, the law that applies to you is the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. This law imposes a unique system of compensation.
It is similar to workers’ compensation. However, injured employees can file a personal injury lawsuit when a third party is responsible for their injuries. This can include the manufacturer of defective equipment or another contractor on the rig. However, there are limits to suing one’s employer or a fellow employee for actions that caused injuries.
Onshore Oil Rig Accidents and Injuries
There are also numerous onshore oil rig accidents. Many of these accidents are similar to the ones that occur offshore. Both involve drilling deep into the ground to extract a volatile and explosive substance. Both also involve sophisticated technology that can malfunction when not maintained properly.
Onshore oil rig accidents can include:
- Equipment malfunctions
- Heavy machinery injuries
- Crush injuries
Even though onshore oil rigs are not on the high seas, they have risks. One of the most common risks of oil rig accidents is improperly maintained or faulty drilling equipment. In addition, workers may not have the proper training to use the equipment. Oil rig workers are highly-specialized and difficult to find, and increased demand for oil can cause companies to hire workers quickly.
The Reasons Why Oil Rig Injury Rates Are Far Higher
In general, oil and gas workers have eight times the chance of suffering injuries on the job than regular workers due to frequent and more serious accidents. Employees are working with dangerous equipment under difficult conditions. Oil production continues around the clock and in poor weather conditions. In Texas, these workers are on the job during blazing hot summer days and difficult winter conditions. Drilling companies also make their employees work long shifts that can lead to mistakes caused by exhaustion.
In a sense, onshore drilling rigs can be even more dangerous than offshore ones. There is far more happening near an onshore drilling rig than offshore. There are vehicles around the drilling site, and the rig is part of a larger oil field.
The same type of workers’ compensation applies to onshore drilling rig accidents. You may not sue your own company, but you can sue a third party for the injuries that they caused. Therefore, an attorney needs to investigate your accident quickly to learn about whether you have a possible lawsuit. Calling a lawyer is something that you should do right after your accident, so you can learn your legal options right away.