The oil and gas industries are considered among the most dangerous professions. And while there are many dangers involved in these industries, we want to focus this article on the question of “just how dangerous are oil derricks for workers?” What are the unique hazards of working on an oil derrick, and how can workers prepare or prevent injuries? Let’s take a closer look.
Just How Dangerous are Oil Derricks for Workers?
Year after year, the oil and gas industry continues to prove to be incredibly dangerous. According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, workers in the oil and gas industry are six times more likely to suffer a fatal injury than workers in “average” jobs.
In 2008, 120 workers were killed in these industries. In 2014, 101 workers were killed. Most years on record have similar data, with some significant incidents causing hundreds of injuries or deaths on their own, such as the Deepwater Horizon explosion.
The majority of fatalities on oil derricks in 2014 occurred in Texas, with a reported 44 percent of fatal injuries occurring here. Other states reporting significant injuries and fatalities include Oklahoma and North Dakota. The most common causes of death were attributed to:
- Falling objects
- Material handling – using a forklift, crane, or winch
- Moving rigging up or down
- Laying down or picking up tubulars
While these were the primary causes of death in 2014 accidents, there are many other dangers that come with working on an oil derrick.
Why are Oil Derricks so Dangerous?
In considering the question “how dangerous are oil derricks for workers” we need to look at the dangers themselves – not just the number of injuries or deaths. Some of the most notable reasons why oil derricks are dangerous include the following:
Petroleum is a highly flammable substance, and combined with the various chemicals used for oil drilling, fire is a significant risk. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around seven percent of all oil worker fatalities between 2003 and 2006 were attributed to fire. Oil drilling often requires chemicals like hydrogen sulfide, which can build up pressure and cause explosions. Various chemicals used for cleaning, lubricating parts, or operating machinery can also increase fire risk.
According to the CDC, another seven percent of worker fatalities between 2003 and 2006 were caused by falls from “higher to lower levels”. In the same study, the CDC reported that 22 percent of worker fatalities could be contributed to falling objects, such as tools or equipment.
Equipment and Machinery
On oil derricks, there are many machines and a lot of equipment. Drills, cranes, forklifts, and other machines are heavy, noisy, and dangerous if they are not properly maintained and inspected. Between 2003 and 2006, six percent of oil worker deaths were caused by crush injuries. Workers can easily become trapped, entangled, or in the path of moving machinery. The noise of these machines can also post a unique danger in that workers cannot adequately communicate with one another.
Most workers on oil derricks work 12-hour shifts, which is difficult in the best of circumstances. In the case of oil derricks, workers have to deal with a variety of unique circumstances that make a 12-hour shift particularly dangerous. A few examples include:
- Working with heavy equipment
- Working around combustible materials
- Exposure to weather conditions
- Being isolated on offshore rigs
Transportation to and from oil derricks or fields can also be dangerous for workers. In fact, some reports suggest that transportation-related accidents may be the leading cause of death among oil and gas industry workers. Workers who are fatigued are often required to drive long distances to wherever they may be staying. After 7-14 days of 12-hour shifts, this drive can be particularly dangerous.
Another transportation concern is the fact that offshore workers often must rely on helicopters to get them to and from the oil derrick. Helicopter malfunctions, improperly maintained helicopters, or flying in poor weather conditions can all contribute to crashes.
Reducing the Dangers of Oil Derricks for Workers
With such a broad range of dangers, is there any way to prevent or reduce the dangers of oil derricks for workers? There are some strategies that could prove useful in preventing injuries and deaths, which boil down to improved workplace safety policies and procedures. Consider the following prevention strategies:
- Improved Safety Policies – Companies can prevent accidents and injuries on their oil derricks by providing more oversight of the facilities, conducting tougher inspections, and making safety requirements more strict.
- Training and Equipment – It is also important that companies adequately train their workers and provide them with proper safety equipment for the job. Going above and beyond the basic safety standards can improve the workplace environment and improve safety.
- Implementation of Existing Regulations – It is not uncommon for oil and gas companies to fall under the umbrella of government regulations, but choose not to follow them as strictly as they should. According to a CDC report in 2016, in 86 percent of fall-related deaths reviewed, proper protection was not used, or was improperly used, or equipment failed. These deaths might have been prevented had regulations been followed.
Protecting the Legal Rights of Oil and Gas Industry Workers
If you work in the oil and gas industry and have been injured on-the-job, you likely have many questions about how to get compensation for your injuries. Workers commonly have questions about workers’ compensation, disability, lost wages, and personal injury laws and processes.
To find out more about the dangers of oil derricks for workers or how you can protect your rights, contact Brown & Brothers to speak with one of our maritime injury attorneys. Fill out our online form and our staff will be in touch shortly to schedule your free consultation.