The oil and gas industry is full of danger, and the risk of an offshore rig injury is particularly high. According to the CDC, the fatality rate among oil and gas workers is about 27 out of 100,000 every year. That’s seven times higher than the general fatality rate in the U.S., and the result of many occupational hazards that workers face on a daily basis. Just getting to the drilling platform is dangerous, as most professionals are flown out to the platform via helicopter. And once onboard the platform, workers are expected to push through 12 hour shifts, seven to 14 days in a row. Clearly, oil and gas companies are willing to put their people in danger for the sake of productivity.
The industry is overflowing with hazards, and a well servicer or operator’s job description may read like an action novel. Workers are expected to operate heavy machinery, climb up to imposing heights, expose themselves to the ocean and the elements, and handle a variety of hazardous materials on a daily basis. Even on platforms with tight safety regulations, an offshore rig injury is still possible.
HERE IS A LIST OF SOME OF THE BIGGEST RISKS OFFSHORE WORKERS FACE:
• Transportation accidents to and from the drilling platform account for the majority of serious and fatal incidents. The CDC put together a report in 2013 that reviewed data from 2003 to 2010. In that report, which tracked fatal accidents in the oil and gas industry, transportation accidents were responsible for 51% of all fatalities. And of those, 75% occurred during aircraft crashes. The rest happened while moving material around the platform using vehicles.
• Impact with objects or heavy machinery was responsible for 16% of fatal incidents. Powerful machinery like compressors, lifts, spinning chain, material handlers, traveling derricks and the drill itself are often used in unguarded areas, which means a momentary lapse of attention can result in serious injury. A lack of fall protection can also result in workers slipping and tumbling from various heights.
• Fires and explosions accounted for 13% of fatal incidents. Disasters are rare on drilling platforms, but when they do occur, they can hurt and kill many people in moments. Explosions can result in a permanent, severe offshore rig injury, and may result from a blowout or aging machinery throwing a spark. Drilling platforms are filled with flammable gasses and liquids, and a stray spark can set off a deadly chain reaction.
• Exposure to hazardous materials resulted in another 13% of fatal incidents. In addition to the toxic and flammable materials stored for use on platforms, drilling operations often disperse deadly gasses into the air. Hydrogen sulfide, for example, is a common gas that is present when extracting natural gas. Exposure to hydrogen sulfide without the proper safety gear is dangerous, and can result in brain and lung damage, as well as leukemia and other cancers.
Workers in the oil and gas industry are accustomed to the constant danger present on drilling platforms, but even with years of experience and modern safety equipment, it’s a dangerous workplace even for the toughest roughnecks.