Common Oil Rig Injuries Highlight Job Hazards

Common Oil Rig Injuries

The oil and gas extraction industry can be a lucrative business, with the promise of hefty salaries, luring hundreds of thousands of workers to the fields every year. This is especially true in recent years; despite regular boom and bust phases, the industry has rebounded heartily since the oil price crash in 2014. According to recent research, nearly 90% of oil and gas industry employers reported that they expected either to hire more employees in 2018 (60%) or to keep staffing levels constant (close to 30%), and industry analysts have announced the United States is on track to become the world’s largest producer of oil in 2018.

Behind the scenes of such booming growth and the promise of record profits, however, is difficult and dangerous work. Ever-higher quotas, productivity and profits are regularly prioritized over employee safety. Common oil rig injuries, such as those caused when a worker is struck by an object, falls off equipment or is caught in machinery on the job, are often due to three factors: the fast-paced nature of the oil extracting business, inadequately trained workers and a lack of proper safeguards. When these elements combine, they can create the perfect conditions for accidents with often tragic consequences.

Oil and gas accident statistics

Oil and Gas Accident Statistics

The upstream oil and gas industry has one of the highest severe-injury rates in the country and the world, with a 2015–2016 rate of 148.9 injuries per 100,000 workers. This high rate is unsurprising, considering the industry’s culture in which worker safeguards may not get the attention they deserve.

When oilfield workers are pushed to produce as much as possible, as quickly as they can, they must sacrifice caution for productivity. Workers may not be properly trained when they are hired, either in safety precautions when operating heavy machinery, navigating high-up rig decking, handling hazardous materials or even in how to use the machinery and equipment that are the tools of their trade. It is also not uncommon for oilfield equipment to be poorly maintained. Shortcuts like these represent failings that are, or at least can appear to be, efforts to maximize production and profits at workers’ expense.

Oil and gas accident statistics from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics show that the most common type of oilfield accident is workers being struck by falling objects, often from collapsing decking or work rigs. The next most common oil rig danger is workers being caught in malfunctioning or defective equipment or machinery. Workers are also regularly involved in vehicle crashes, as well as accidents due to slipping and falling off the rigs or other equipment. Depending on the location of the oilfield, workers can be involved in tragic accidents if they drive while fatigued, leading to one of the more common truck accident causes.

Specific injuries that workers can incur in these common oil and gas accidents include:

  • Finger or fingertip amputation
  • Bone fractures
  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Puncture wounds and lacerations
  • Burns, including chemical burns
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision loss

Another type of workplace hazard that is common in the oil and gas industry is related to worker drug use. Drug trafficking and abuse are on the rise in the industry because of the high demands of oil rig jobs combined with the high wages that workers are paid. When workers are pressured to maintain long hours and a high level of output on the job, and they can afford drugs that will help them meet the demands of their jobs, drug use and abuse can become rampant.

Use of stimulants like cocaine and methamphetamine is particularly common among oil rig workers who could not conform to such high productivity standards without them. Despite certain drugs’ performance-enhancing effects, however, employees who work while under the influence of drugs or alcohol contribute to the likelihood that an accident may occur.

Many oil companies and contractors are beginning to adopt more stringent drug-testing policies, including administering drug and alcohol tests to employees following an accident to determine whether substance abuse was a factor in the incident. Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, it is common for oilfield employees and job applicants to fail these drug tests.

OSHA oil and gas safety

OSHA Oil and Gas Safety Regulations & Statistics

The collection of data on severe injuries—those resulting in hospitalization and/or the loss of a body part—is relatively new in the oil and gas industry. Oilfield employers have been required to report severe injuries to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) only since 2015. Prior to that year, they were required to report to OSHA only fatalities and catastrophic accidents that resulted in the hospitalization of at least three employees; all other, less severe accidents and injuries went unreported.

Even with the new rules regarding injury reporting, OSHA data from 2015 to the present is incomplete due to 21 states not being included in the reporting. In those states, which include California, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming (all states with significant oil and gas industries), oilfield employers are required to report injuries only to state agencies, not to OSHA.

Despite the incompleteness of the available oilfield injury data, however, it is clear that the oil and gas industry’s high fatality rate is due to the many safety hazards associated with the industry.

Oil rig accidents

Oil Rig Accidents Due to Flammable Gases

While injuries and fatalities related to explosions and fires are less common than other types of oil field accident injuries, they do occur. Workers who drill or service oil wells are required to handle a variety of hazardous materials, many of which are highly combustible, such as hydrogen sulfide gas.

Oilfield workers are also exposed to materials, such as airborne silica and diesel particulate matter, that can be harmful to the skin, eyes or lungs. When workers are exposed to harmful levels of these or other hazardous materials, they can suffer both acute and chronic illnesses, burns or other injuries as a result.

Safety procedures in the oil and gas industry

Safety Procedures in The Oil And Gas Industry

Workplace accidents in the oil industry could be greatly reduced if workers were provided with adequate training in both equipment use and safety precautions. Proper maintenance of oilfield equipment would also help reduce accidents in the fields.

There are, of course, many safety measures already in place on most oil rigs, but they may be inadequate in such a hazardous environment. Oil rig workers are required to wear hard hats, for example, but these often don’t provide enough protection in the case of a fall, explosion or being struck by a falling object or collapsed deck. Many oil rig workers have incurred traumatic brain injuries from being struck on the head on the job, even though they were wearing hard hats as required.

In the case of injuries related to hazardous chemical accidents and exposures, OSHA recommends active monitoring of chemicals, along with worker training programs and proper head, eye, face and respiratory protection to minimize damage. As far as accidents related to oilfield machinery and equipment, there is potential for many types of injuries when workers come into close contact with cams, gears, pulleys, flywheels, belts, cranks and more. Accidents happen when equipment breaks, malfunctions or is not properly maintained. Thus, the recommendation for these types of incidents is to implement regular, comprehensive inspection and maintenance plans as well as utilizing safety control devices like tripwires, two-handed controls and barriers such as gates and protective shields.

Many oil and gas companies use the Job Safety Analysis Process (JSA) to help reduce workplace accidents and injuries. Any job on an oil rig that has the potential for accident or injury is a candidate for the JSA Process, which identifies hazards associated with each step of a particular task. That way, everyone involved in the job can participate in the JSA and work together to identify actions and procedures to minimize and guard against accidents and prevent injuries.

The Oilfield Accident Attorneys at Slack Davis Sanger Can Help Injured Oil Workers And Their Families

Despite initiatives like the JSA Process, workplace accidents, injuries and fatalities are still all too common in the oil and gas extraction industry. Employers may be negligent in the regular inspection and maintenance of equipment and machinery, or they may fail to provide adequate worker training or to mandate and enforce safety precautions among employees. But protecting workers is paramount to the industry, even if profit remains the bottom line, as accident liability and related lawsuits and settlements ultimately eat away at companies’ profits.

If you or someone you love has been involved in an oil rig accident, it’s time to contact Slack Davis Sanger. Our caring and competent oilfield accident attorneys are leaders in personal injury law. We have decades of experience in advocating for our clients who have been injured in or have lost a loved one to a workplace accident. Our attorneys have experience in the oil and gas industry’s complex laws and regulations, and we will work hard on your behalf to ensure you are awarded the compensation you deserve.

Oil Rig Dangers: Work-Related Injuries and Safety

Oil Rig Dangers

Despite a rise in alternative energy sources, global demand for oil continues to increase. In the United States alone, over 7.2 billion barrels of petroleum products were consumed in 2016—an average of almost 20 million barrels a day. Almost 40 percent of employers in the oil and gas industry plan to increase their workforce by at least 5 percent over the next year to expand production.

Extracting oil is a dangerous business, whether it’s done onshore or offshore. Oil rig dangers are considerable, because this line of work deals with intense pressure, highly combustible material and heavy equipment.

According to data compiled by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, a worker in the oil and gas industry is six times more likely to die on the job than the average American worker.

When workers are offshore, help is not close by. A fire or another accident can quickly escalate into a tragedy. Thinking back to the almost 200 workers who perished in explosions on the Deepwater Horizon in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 and the Piper Alpha in the North Sea in 1988 remind us how perilous this line of work can be.

When disaster strikes on an oil rig, what are the top reasons people are injured? Could safety measures have reduced the number of victims of these accidents? Let’s take a look at the numbers, some of the more common reasons oilfield workers are at risk and measures companies can take to protect their employees.

How Many Oil and Gas Employees Are Hurt or Injured On the Job?

Oilfield work often appears on lists of the most dangerous professions. As the oil and gas industry boomed from an average of 800 active drilling rigs in the 1990s to approximately 1,300 in the time period from 2003 to 2006, the worker fatality rate increased, with over 400 workers losing their lives on the job. The Centers for Disease Control found that the annual fatality rate climbed to 30.5 per 100,000 workers over those four years alone.

The three states with the most oilfield deaths in 2008 were Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana. From 2004 until 2008, the number of fatalities while working in the oil and gas industry increased by 91 percent in Oklahoma, 21 percent in Texas and 30 percent in Louisiana.

In addition to an alarming high worker death rate in the oil and gas industry, life-altering injuries can also occur. In 2016 alone, at least 20 workers a month were hospitalized or lost a body part while on the job. Oilfield workers can also experience major burns and fractures, among other injuries. The Labor Department speculates that employers under report injuries by as much as 60 percent. The former head of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) pointed out that a culture of not reporting these incidents in the oil and gas industry is common, so even more workers are probably hurt or injured on the job.

Why Are Oilfields So Dangerous?

Why are so many oil and gas workers injured or killed while on the job? What is it, exactly, that makes working in this industry so dangerous? Most work-related injuries and fatalities are associated with working in an extremely high-pressure environment, with workers spending long periods of time away from home logging long hours in a physically-demanding environment. Part of the pressure comes with the cost of doing business, where just a one-minute delay can cost a company hundreds of dollars.

As a result, we see more human error in this type of work, which can lead to equipment misuse and procedures being implemented unevenly. Ultimately, these errors can jeopardize the safety of the job site. A few reasons oilfield work is particularly risky is that this line of work involves heights, heavy equipment, challenges getting to and from job sites and dangerous materials.

Fall Hazards On Oilfields

Working in an oilfield can be terrifying if you have a fear of heights. A misstep on an offshore outboard walkway at night means almost certain death if a worker falls. Slipping while moving materials on an elevated platform can result in life-changing injuries. From 2003 to 2013, falls increased 2 percent annually in the oil and gas industry. The CDC identified 63 fatal falls while analyzing OSHA data, which represents 15 percent of all fatal events during that same time period. Fifty-two percent of workers fell from a height of more than 30 feet, resulting in catastrophic injuries. Thirty-five percent of falls were from the derrick board, which is the elevated work platform on an oil rig.

The same report showed that most of the fatalities happened when the rigs were being assembled or disassembled at the well site or when drill pipe was inserted or removed from the wellbore. Derrickmen were found to be the most susceptible to falls when they handle pipe from the derrick board.

Dangers Associated With Heavy Equipment

When you work several stories off the ground, as is typical on an oil derrick, dropped equipment can become missiles that can easily maim workers or cause serious injury. A common hazard in both construction and the oil and gas industry, falling equipment caused 22 percent of all oilfield worker fatalities in the time period from 2003 to 2006. For onsite fatalities, the leading cause of death was being struck by, crushed or caught in equipment.

Spinning machinery and support equipment, including cranes and forklifts, are frequently in motion on a job site in the oil and gas industry. These conditions put workers at an increased risk for injury. In addition, the noise level of the working environment makes communication difficult. Six percent of oil worker deaths were attributed to workers being crushed by moving equipment.

Risks Getting To and From Job Sites

Workers typically work 8 to 12 hour days at a stretch of 7 to 14 days at a time, which leads to worker fatigue. This demanding schedule not only slows reaction time while on the job but also when the workday ends. Workers may leave a job site and have a long drive to where they will be staying. Transportation accidents are the leading cause of death among oil and gas extraction workers.

During the oil boom, State Highway 72 in South Texas became one of the state’s deadliest roads. The highway connects the oil towns of Kenedy and Tilden to the Three Rivers Valero refinery. In the first six months of 2014 alone, oil and gas companies filed 24 claims for fatal auto accidents.

In a report from Houston Public Media, Texas Mutual Insurance Vice President for Safety Services Woody Hill said, “We see a high incidence of motor vehicle operators who’ve worked fourteen-hour shifts, driving down the road and falling asleep at the wheel.”

Offshore workers travel to and from rigs on helicopters, which can also pose health and safety risks. In 2016, all 13 passengers died after a helicopter crashed off Norway’s coast. In 2015, a helicopter eturning from an oil rig off the coast of Nigeria crashed, claiming the lives of four oil industry workers. Tragically, 45 offshore oil workers lost their lives in 1986 while traveling on a Chinook helicopter to a platform stationed in the North Sea.

Perils Linked To Oilfield materials

It goes without saying that petroleum is highly combustible, as are some of the chemicals that are used in onshore drilling, such as hydrogen sulfide. A well can explode if too much pressure is allowed to build up inside. The CDC reported that 7 percent of oil and gas extraction worker fatalities from 2003 to 2006 were from fires and an additional 9 percent were from explosions. Electrocution claimed the lives of an additional 5 percent of oilfield workers.

Improved Workplace Safety Can Save Lives

Too many oil and gas workers are losing their lives or dealing with life-changing injuries as a result of a workplace accident. Despite the dangers associated with oil and gas extraction, injuries and deaths in the industry can be reduced with improved safety measures, implementation, training and sharing of best practices.

Improved Safety Measures

Tighter safety requirements, tougher inspections and more oversight of oil operations can help spot potential problems and curb both the number and severity of oilfield accidents. As new technologies become available, more oil rig tasks are being automated, which can move workers away from dangerous equipment and into safer monitoring roles.

Employers can take steps to improve safety by making sure all workers have proper protective equipment and receive adequate training. Companies can go beyond regulations to keep pathways on a oil rig clear of debris to prevent workers from tripping or being struck by an object. Monitoring equipment placed inside of vehicles can give companies more insight about how to make improvements to existing vehicle safety programs.

Better Implementation of Existing Regulations

In many cases, safety measures do exist, but are not followed, or are not followed correctly. In response to the number of industry-related fatal injuries in 2004, the NIOSH created an Oil and Gas Safety and Health program. The agency concluded in a March 2016 report that while the oil and gas extraction industry made progress in reducing the fatality rate, the risk of workers dying is still significantly higher than most other professions. The group recommended that the industry continue efforts to reduce hazards and target high-risk operations and groups of workers within the industry.

The CDC found that fall protection was regulated in 86 percent of fatal falls during this time. Unfortunately, either protection “was not used, was used improperly or the equipment failed.” In 24 of those 63 fatal falls, 15 workers were wearing their safety harness but fell anyway because their harnesses weren’t attached to an anchor point. A verbal check between the driller and the derrickman before drilling operations began might have saved their lives. Taking this step could have reminded the derrickman to connect to the self-retracting lifeline and a restraint system on the derrick board.

Improved Training and Hiring Practices

When it comes to offshore drilling and the desire to dig deeper, inexperience can play a role. LiveScience reported that in the Deepwater Horizon incident, “BP Chief Operating Officer Doug Suttles acknowledged that many of his company’s efforts to stop the oil leak failed because they had never had to plug a well at such depths and were therefore unprepared for the conditions that foiled their attempts, including ice formation inside of the original containment dome due to freezing deep water temperatures.” Indeed, the rig broke new ground and was the world’s deepest offshore well before it exploded and sank.

Oilfields are in a state of near-constant motion, with workers coming on and off the job frequently. Employers can make sure that when projects shift, signage is placed in correct areas and that new workers are onboarded with everything they need to know about safety hazards and procedures.

Slack Davis Sanger Has a Proven Record In Oilfield Accident Cases

If you were injured or a loved one was killed while working on an oil rig, you may feel helpless to stand up to a powerful multinational corporation. The lawyers at Slack Davis Sanger have decades of experience seeking just compensation for workers and their families whose lives were forever changed as a result of an oilfield accident. Our experts will combine a deep understanding of the complex set of laws and regulations in the oil and gas industry with compassion for your situation to secure a favorable settlement in your personal injury or wrongful death case.