Recent accidents and fatalities on oil and gas rigs have brought workplace safety concerns into the spotlight. Time magazine has even rated oil drilling as one of the most dangerous professions in the United States. Because of this, it is imperative that safety standards be established and maintained in order to create the safest possible environment for rig employees. Some of the most common hazards on oil rigs include:
- Explosions & Fires
- Trips, Slips, and Falls
- Tools and Machines
Below, we’ll break down each hazard and provide useful tips, based on suggestions found on the OSHA Oil and Rig resource, on how to prevent these hazards.
Hazard: Explosions & Fires
At the top of our list of hazards on oil rigs is, of course, fires and explosions. Petroleum and other common chemicals (such as hydrogen sulfide) found on oil rigs are incredibly flammable. According to the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries, fires and explosions were responsible for 7% and 9% (respectively) of fatalities amongst oil workers from 2003 to 2007.
Fire & Explosion Prevention Tips:
The maintenance of machinery and safety equipment is paramount to preventing oil rig accidents and explosions. Frequent Routine inspections should be conducted to ensure the proper functioning of all equipment on site.
Additionally, crew members should be provided with fire extinguishers and adequate uniforms. Above all else, everyone on board (employees and supervisors) should be properly trained on how to safely operate in their environment and how to react in the event of a fire/explosion emergency.
Hazard: Trips, Slips, and Falls
The CDC reported that in 2013 nearly 13% of all fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industries were due to slips and falls. Trips and falls are common workplace injuries in a wide variety of industries. Falls are especially dangerous on oil rigs because of the sheer elevation of the work necessary.
Employee Fall Prevention Tips:
OSHA Safety Standards comprehensively outline ways to prevent slips, trips, and falls on an oil rig. Some of OSHA’s suggested precautions include using personal protective equipment such as hard hats, using non-skid surfaces to prevent slips, installing guardrails, maintaining a clean and tidy work environment, and covering all open cellars/holes.
In addition to these guidelines, installing proper signage in areas where slips and falls are more prevalent can help to reinforce the need to be careful.
Hazard: Tools & Machines
Forklifts, drills, cranes, and other heavy machinery used on oil rigs must be operated with extreme caution. In addition to the hazards associated with misuse of this kind of equipment, the noise created from operating this kind of equipment can often make it hard for employees to communicate effectively to one another in the event of an emergency. Vehicle accidents and struck-by/caught-in/caught-between accidents are very often fatal.
Tool and Machine Hazard Prevention Tips:
Adequate employee training plays a vital role in preventing machinery accidents on-site. Equipment and machinery should only be operated by employees who have received sufficient training on their use, maintenance, and emergency situation protocols. Additionally, all crewmembers must be trained on how to conduct their jobs in the presence of this kind of equipment.
One hazard that may be overlooked is falling tools and debris. The CDC reports that 22% of all oilfield worker fatalities were caused as a result of being struck by a tool that was accidentally dropped by another worker.
While the use of protective equipment (such as hard hats) can mitigate the severity of these accidents, additional precautions (such as using anchor systems and strings to prevent tools from falling) can also be taken to ensure that these accidents do not occur.
While these hazards are the most common hazards on oil rigs, they are by no means the only hazards. Employee fatigue, improper ventilation, electrical discharges, noise exposure, and other dangerous hazards are also a part of daily life working on an oil rig. For the most comprehensive information on oil rig hazards and how to prevent them, please refer to OSHA’s rules and regulations.