Oil rigs are workplaces situated on offshore structures that house equipment for drilling for oil beneath the sea. Typically, the rig sits on a stationary platform attached to the seabed. The platform and drilling equipment together are considered the rig. Crude oil slurry collected at oil rigs is usually pumped into specialized tank trucks for delivery to land-based refineries. There it is processed into various petroleum-based products, such as gasoline, heating oil, diesel fuel, and the like.
The process of collecting the slurry presents several dangers. High pressure is generated from the oil drilling process and needs to be regulated using complex hydrostatic pressure systems. Oil rigs include one or more mechanical systems to balance and control pressure. Failure to regulate pressure generated in oil drilling can cause a kick, where the collected crude oil slurry forces itself into the drill mechanism; or a blowout, where pressure control systems completely fail and the drilling equipment is blown out and crude oil slurry spews into the environment.
One of the most important systems on the rig is called a blowout preventer (BOP). A BOP system will be activated when pressure underground is too high. BOPs are considered fail-safe devices. Prudent practice calls for the use of multiple BOPs. In this way, if one BOP fails, a blowout can still be prevented by another BOP device.
Working on oil rigs is one of the most dangerous of all jobs. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), offshore oil and gas workers are seven times more prone to work-related deaths than workers in other professions. Oil rigging involves work of a highly technical nature, which is done in a harsh environment. It is a high stress job that places extreme demands on workers and equipment alike.
Risk Factors Associated with Oil Rig Operations
There are risk factors associated with oil rigs that increase the chances of workers being injured on the job. These include:
- Fatigue from working long shifts
- Distance from medical assistance
- Inexperienced workers
Risk factors can increase the likelihood and severity of maritime worker injuries. Tired employees lose important situational awareness, have lower reflexes, and can even fall asleep on the job. Injured employees requiring immediate medical treatment may experience worsened injury or even die as a result of having to be airlifted to obtain medical treatment beyond what is available on the rig. Inexperienced workers can make mistakes in handling equipment or in understanding safety protocols necessary to mitigate workplace events, such as chemical spills, equipment malfunctions, or other unusual events. Each of these risk factors can cause, contribute to, or worsen workplace injuries.
A variety of workplace hazards can be addressed with design, training, and safety equipment, but many simply cannot be eliminated. Hazards found aboard oil rigs include:
- Exposure to hazardous substances, including oil and chemicals
- Slippery conditions due to water being ever-present
- Unsecured or improperly stowed equipment and objects
- Transportation to and from rigs
Slippery conditions and unsecured equipment both pose risks of slip and falls, which are common on rigs. Interestingly, the CDC has reported that transportation accidents, particularly air transports, are a primary cause of death and injury in the oil rigging industry. Mechanical mishaps and bad weather have been identified as prominent factors in these accidents.
Blowouts can cause the most damage because of the chaos that results when the equipment fails. Blowouts containing methane gas can cause explosions if the gas encounters a source of ignition. The devastating 2010 explosion on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico resulted in a blowout followed by an explosion.
Laws and Compensation
Specific laws are available to enable maritime workers to be compensated for workplace injuries. The Jones Act applies to seamen working offshore and can provide recovery from employers and/or vessel owners for conditions that contributed to the injury.
Cape May Maritime Lawyers at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. Advocate for Injured Maritime Workers
If you were injured while working on an oil rig at sea, contact an experienced Cape May maritime lawyer at Freedman & Lorry, P.C. today. Call us at 888-999-1962 or complete an online form to set up a free consultation. Located in Philadelphia, Pinehurst, North Carolina, and Cherry Hill, New Jersey, we serve clients throughout South Jersey, including Wildwood and Cape May.