Health and Safety Concerns Aboard Oil and Gas Rigs

health and safety, maritime, oil and gas

Oil and gas well drilling activities at sea offer a lucrative income opportunity but come with plenty of risks to a workers’ health and safety.   Heavy equipment, hazardous conditions, and the maritime environment combine to pose credible threats of serious injury and death.

Recognizing and controlling the hazards for workers on oil and gas rigs is key to preventing catastrophic injury and loss of life.  Furthermore, many offshore injuries can certainly be prevented by following health and safety guidelines.

Offshore Health and Safety 

If you work offshore on an oil or gas derrick, you know there are risks.  If you are considering the occupation, you may find it helpful to review some of the health and safety dangers before accepting a position.  Below, you can learn more about these risks and what you can do to stay safe.

Caught in Equipment Injuries

The variety of equipment moving around in fairly confined spaces presents a risk of workers being struck by, caught in, or caught between pieces of equipment on a vessel.  Three out of every five onsite deaths in the oil and gas extraction industry are the result of struck-by/caught -in/caught-between accidents.

Moving vehicles on the rig, moving equipment, falling equipment and high pressure lines could all have the potential to cause struck-by/caught -in/caught-between injuries to workers.

Explosions and Fires

Workers in the oil and gas extraction industry face the risk of fire and explosion because the workplace environment is filled with flammable vapors.  This risk is inherent due to the nature of the work.  A multitude of flammable gases rise from wells, production equipment, or surface equipment continuously.

The most dangerous ignition sources throughout the work environment include:

  • Electric energy sources
  • Static electricity
  • Open flames
  • Lightning
  • Cigarettes
  • Welding tools
  • Frictional Heat

As you can see, there are many elements of offshore work that can expose you to fire, heat, flame, or electrical currents.


Virtually all maritime work environments carry an increased risk for workplace slips and falls because of the wet conditions at sea.  On oil and gas rigs, workers may need to access platforms and equipment high above the lowest level.  The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OHSA)  requires workers who work high off the ground to use safety  harnesses and tethers to prevent workplace falls.   Even with the appropriate safety equipment, workers sometimes fall from the higher levels and suffer devastating injury.

Confined Spaces 

Oil and gas rig workers frequently enter confined spaces.  These areas include:

  • Storage tanks
  • Sand storage containers
  • Confined spaces around the wellhead
  • Spaces between equipment
  • Narrow hallways and doors

Working in confined spaces for long periods of time presents both health and safety hazards to workers.  Confined spaces increase the risk of ignition of flammable vapors, as well as asphyxiation, and exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Some confined spaces on oil and gas rigs present a very serious atmospheric hazard.  They may contain toxic chemicals that require classification as permit-required confined spaces.   OSHA also requires employers to test these areas prior to employee entry. Also, employers must continuously monitor these environments.

Ergonomic Hazards

A career on an oil or gas rig is physically intensive.  Workers are at risk of suffering ergonomic-related injuries from:

  •  Lifting heavy things
  •  Bending
  •  Reaching overhead
  •  Pushing or pulling heavy loads
  •  Working in awkward body postures
  •  Performing repetitive tasks

Much of the discomfort and risks for ergonomic-related injuries can be eliminated through proper planning.  If workers use the right tools and make a plan prior to beginning a task, many ergonomic-related injuries can be avoided.

The possibility of eliminating the risk of these types of injuries takes for granted management or owner cooperation in direct prevention measures.  Sadly, mismanagement is common aboard oil and gas drilling vessels.  Workers cannot always count on shop management to help protect their health and safety.

High Pressure Lines and Equipment

The high pressure lines that collect and transport the oil or gas can be very hazardous to workers.  Around high pressure lines, workers risk:

  • Harm from the compressed gases in a line
  • Internal erosion of the line which could result in a leak or rupture
  • If connections securing high pressure lines fail, workers could also be struck by the high pressure line after it breaks free from its mooring

Electrical and Energy Hazards

Aboard oil and gas drilling vessels, workers frequently work near electrical, mechanical, or hydraulic sources of energy.   This is especially true if the equipment on board is not designed, installed, or maintained properly.   Very often, administrative controls regarding operating procedures are not in place.  Without a centralized administration, the uncontrolled sources of energy pose a significant risk to the workers.

Machine Hazards

Workers aboard oil and gas extraction platforms interact with rotating wellhead equipment, top drives, Kelly drive, draw works, pumps, compressors, cathead’s, voice blocks, felt wheels, and conveyors on a daily basis.  Without maintaining older machines in the work environment, these machines pose a serious threat of injury if they were to break down or malfunction.

Diesel Particulate Matter

Oil and gas rig workers are exposed to harmful levels of diesel particulate matter while operating machinery, vehicles, and equipment on a drilling site.  Inhaling the exhaust and the miniscule particles can cause long-lasting respiratory problems.

Hazardous Chemicals

Most workers on an oil and gas drilling rig will handle hazardous chemicals at some point during the work process.  At the highest risk are the workers who participate in hydraulic fracturing.  They are the most likely to suffer illness or injury due to the hazardous byproducts of oil and gas drilling.

Not all workers on the rig will be exposed to hazardous chemicals to the same degree because of their differing roles in the workforce.  Possible chemical hazards include:

  • Chemical burns from caustic substances
  • Inhalation of toxic vapors

Exposure to hazardous chemicals is so rampant aboard these vessels that employers must record safety data sheets for the workers who work near hazardous chemicals.  Furthermore, employers must spend time and money training workers on the best practices to avoid exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Toxic substances to which oil and gas rig workers may be exposed include:

  • Hydrocarbon Gases and Vapors (HGVs)
  • Hydrogen Sulfide
  • Naturally Occurring Radioactive Material (NORM)
  • Crystalline silica

Exposure to hazardous or toxic substances can post numerous health and safety hazards.

Health and Safety Planning and Prevention

Planning and prevention by the management and owners of vessels is essential to protect the health and safety of offshore oil and gas workers.  Being aware of the hazards is the first step.  Taking precautions to minimize the impact of hazardous materials and situations is next.  Finally, training workers about the potential hazards to their health and safety can help reduce worksite injury and long-term illness.

In a perfect world, oil and gas rights would be perfectly managed in a way that minimizes every single instance of injury or illness.  The truth is, oil and gas rig workers make a very decent living because their job is dangerous and they are more than aware of the risks.

Knowingly signing up for work that has the potential to compromise your health and safety does not prevent you from holding your employer responsible if their negligence caused the conditions that harmed you.

Health and Safety and Your Legal Rights

The Jones Act allows maritime workers hold their employers responsible for a workplace injury.   If your health and safety is suffering due to working offshore, contact Maritime Injury Guide.  Schedule a free consultation of your potential claim to get started.  Call 1-866-871-8422 or contact us online.