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Common Causes of Offshore Oil Rig Accidents

March 16, 2022

The offshore oil and gas industry is a critical part of the nation’s economy. Indeed, it provides thousands of jobs to the workforce. However, the nature of maritime industries makes working in offshore oil extraction a dangerous field. In fact, the fatality rate for the oil and gas extraction industry is estimated to be 7 times higher than for all other U.S. workers. Yet, you may find yourself wondering why these oil rigs are so dangerous. What are the most common causes of injuries are on these vessels? To help you better understand the risk posed to workers on offshore oil rigs, here is a look at the common types of oil rigs and the most common offshore oil rig accidents that occur on these vessels.

Types of Offshore Oil Rigs

Many types of offshore oil rigs help with the drilling and exploration of oil and gas. Some of these oil rigs fix at the ocean floor, while others float on top of the water. Each of these platforms is designed for different water depths and purposes. Some employ hundreds of workers at a time. Here are the most common types of oil rigs used for offshore drilling.

Barges

Barge oil rigs work in shallow waters, usually less than 20 feet deep. Often, maritime workers use them in inland waterways as well as offshore. After floating to a drilling site, the hull of the barge oil rig rests on the ocean floor. Thus, creating a stable drilling platform.

Submersibles

When waters are too deep for a barge but still relatively shallow (generally less than 100 feet deep), use a submersible oil rig. Large pontoon-like structures support this type of oil rig below the seafloor. Once this type of oil rig is in the desired location, the pontoons and columns are slowly flooded until resting on the seafloor. Operating decks elevate at the top of the columns to protect them from waves. These rigs can then be refloated and moved to another location as needed.

Fixed Platforms

Fixed platform oil rigs create an anchored platform made of steel or cement as a permanent structure. These oil rigs have legs anchored directly to the seabed. It supports a deck with space for drilling rigs, production facilities, and crew quarters. Fixed platform rigs can operate at depths up to 1,700 feet.

Jackup Platforms

Jackup platforms are often used in relatively shallow waters up to 400 feet deep. Standing on 3 or 4 legs secured to the ocean floor, the oil platform can move up and down the legs as the water levels shift. Thus, giving this oil rig its name.

Floaters

As oil rigs move out into deeper waters in search of oil, it becomes impractical to attach them to the ocean floor. Instead, anchors keep the floating rigs in place or dynamic position systems that keep them in their targeting location. Several types of floating oil rigs exist, with the most common being:

  • Semi-submersibles: This type of offshore drilling rig is a massive vessel that floats above the water on columns that are secured to large pontoons. While work-decks float above the water, the majority of the vessel’s mass is sunk below the water once the rig is in position, helping to give the vessel stability. This design allows these rigs to maintain stability in rough seas. Then, they can drill in waters up to 10,000 feet deep.
  • Drillships: Usually built on oil tanker hulls that have been fitted with drilling devices, drillships are capable of operating in deepwater and can move around more quickly than other offshore oil rigs. Due to the ease with which they can reach new locations, drillships are quickly becoming the most popular type of offshore oil rig.

Common Offshore Oil Rig Accidents

Considering there are so many types of oil rigs, some utilizing extremely complex systems and being operated in remote waters, accidents can range in severity, with the most common injuries resulting from oil rig accidents including:

  • Broken Bones
  • Loss of Limb(s)
  • Respiratory Problems Resulting from Chemical Exposure
  • Burns
  • Cuts, Scrapes, and Lacerations
  • Spinal Cord Injury
  • Brain/Head Injuries

Working on an oil rig can expose workers to a variety of hazards, making it one of the most dangerous professions. While accidents can occur on these rigs for a variety of reasons, here is a look at a few of the most common causes of oil rig accidents.

Transportation Accidents as the Most Common Offshore Oil Rig Accidents

An aerial view of an oil rig with a helicopter pad that has seen transportation and offshore oil rig accident.

Aerial shot of oil rig leaving the shipyard.

According to the CDC, transportation accidents are the leading cause of injuries and fatalities amongst these employees. Due to the remote location and notoriously rough seas in these areas, oil rig workers rely heavily on aircraft. However, adverse weather and mechanical problems can make these trips particularly dangerous, resulting in potentially deadly accidents.

Machinery or Object Accidents

Workers on offshore oil rigs deal with heavy machinery every day. This leaves them susceptible to falling or shifting objects. Additionally, this machinery can be particularly dangerous when inadequately trained employees fail to meet safety standards. Thus, they inadvertently put themselves and others at risk.

Fires and Explosions

Because of the presence of flammable materials onboard, there is a great risk for fires and explosions on offshore oil rigs, which can quickly turn deadly. The Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010, which killed 11 crew members, is a tragic reminder of the risk explosions pose on these vessels. Blowouts, equipment failures, and employee/employer negligence are all common factors that can lead to fires on offshore oil rigs.

Exposure to Dangerous Substances

Oil rig workers can come into contact with a variety of dangerous chemicals and substances throughout their day. This includes crude oil, solvents, drilling fluid, and other hazardous chemicals. Exposure to these chemicals can result in various reactions. For example, burns, rashes, respiratory problems, injury to internal organs, and even asphyxiation.

Learn More About Offshore Oil Rig Accidents

While offshore oil rigs play a critical role in providing the nation with oil and gas, these vessels can also pose a serious threat to workers. It is then important that you know your rights if you or a loved one sustained serious injuries in an offshore oil rig accident, as you may be entitled to compensation under maritime law. Feel free to contact our experienced offshore oil rig accident lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard LLP to learn more about your options and the steps you must take to receive compensation for your injuries.

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