Compared to most occupations, working on an oil rig comes with high injury risk. In 2008 alone, 21 people were killed while working on U.S. platforms, and many more incurred some form of injury. Safety experts liken platform disasters to plane crashes. They don’t often happen, but when they do, the aftermath is often devastating. Accidents like the Deepwater Horizon platform explosion in 2010 have placed a significant emphasis on industry safety. Enforcing new regulations, though, is often hit or miss, and most accidents are caused, at least in part, by employer or coworker negligence.

Why is the risk of an oil rig injury so high?

Platform workers usually work 12-hour shifts and are constantly around combustible materials, hazardous chemicals and heavy equipment. A small fire can quickly get out of control, a malfunctioning crane may drop thousands of pounds of material, or a slick surface can send someone tumbling. Even when a worker abides by all safety rules, they are regularly exposed to asbestos, hydrogen sulfide, petroleum products, and other chemicals that are harmful when ingested, inhaled or touched.

Platforms are situated many miles away from help should an accident occur. Even if the Coastguard is notified of a disaster right away, it can take several hours before help arrives.

All of these dangers are made worse by the shoddy safety and maintenance procedures often in place on drilling platforms. It’s common for multiple parties to be responsible for platform safety and maintenance, including the platform’s owner, the leasing company, staffing company, and any manufacturer providing the platform with equipment. These parties all have to communicate clearly and regularly with each other to ensure there is no gap in platform safety and maintenance. While simple in principle, it is apparently harder in practice. In the aftermath of the Deepwater Horizon explosion, for example, British Petroleum (the platform’s operator) and Transocean (the platform’s owner) blamed each other for mistakes made just prior to the disaster.

What are the most common oil rig injury occurrences?

Burns

Fire is every drilling platform’s worst nightmare, and many safety regulations are dedicated to reducing the risk of an explosion or blaze. Between 10 and 20 percent of worker fatalities on drilling platforms are caused by fires or explosions each year. These accidents can cause serious burns that leave the victim with nerve damage, disfiguring scars, chronic pain or loss of mobility.

Falls or dropped material

Falls and falling hazards are a significant risk in every industry, and drilling platforms are no different. According to the CDC, falls and dropped material (tools, equipment, containers) account for around 30 percent of all drilling platform fatalities every year. These accidents can result in traumatic brain injuries,  spine injury, broken bones or internal damage. Safety equipment like hard hats can reduce this risk, but these must be available by the platform operator, and their use encouraged.

Crushing or electrocution

Heavy equipment, like cranes, forklifts and spinning machinery, are responsible for many crushing and electrocution accidents every year. The loud noise these machines create makes them even more dangerous as workers have to struggle to communicate with them present. The CDC reports that these two dangers cause around 10 percent of worker fatalities on platforms every year.