Working on an oil rig is a difficult job. In fact, the slang term for oil rig workers is roughneck, due to the perilous conditions they work in. From the toolpusher and driller to the worm (floorhand), each worker performs a vital function in drilling for oil.

Though most drilling is performed on small land rigs in well-established fields throughout the U.S., some teams are assigned to set up rigs in the middle of the ocean (think Deepwater Horizon). At sea, the dangers increase, and only the most rugged people can handle the workload.

No Room for Mistakes

A typical oil rig costs around $700,000 – $1,000,000 per day, and deepwater drilling projects can take up to 200 days to complete.

These giant rigs hold up to 6 miles of pipe (weighing up to 2 million lbs), and are over 800 feet long. Capable of holding up to 200 people, these ships are equipped with sonar, GPS, and six 360-degree thrusters to hold the drilling rig stable within a few feet in even the most extreme of weather conditions.

With such expensive equipment, there’s little room for mistakes. A mistake can cost millions of dollars per minute, and it can be quite nerve-wracking maintaining heavy equipment while working both on and in the sea, rain or shine.

A Dangerous Ship

Though they look quite cool, an oil drilling rig can be quite dangerous. Moving around means often traversing small walkways high above the ship’s deck. The danger of falling is heightened by the nature of the work and being on the ocean.

Falling off the ship at night can mean certain death. Even in the summer, ocean waters can be quite cool, and it doesn’t take long for hypothermia to kick in. If an oil rig worker falls overboard, it’s unlikely the body will even be found.

Add to this the inherent dangers of working with oil (slippery surfaces, risk of flash fire, breathing in noxious fumes, etc.), and oil rig workers have one of the toughest jobs in the world. Hard manual labor is necessary while wearing protective FR clothing.

The First Day

Oil rigs are typically reached via helicopter. It can be exhilarating the first time, but experienced workers tend to sleep during the flight. After landing on deck, everyone goes through a mandatory 1-2 hour safety briefing, where they watch a video, fill out medical paperwork, and listen to a speech about rig-specific rules.

After orientation, workers are allowed to socialize, find their bunks, and get to work. Cafeteria and cleaning staff are onsite, and various third-party contractors come and go to complete specialized tasks. Workers and crew are often rotated out throughout the project timeline, though supervisory staff will often stay the entire time.

Once things get going, life becomes constant manual labor, as subsea maintenance, well-flow tests, and constant monitoring are necessary. With such high financial stakes, it’s important to stay focused.

Oil rig workers are often portrayed in the media as typical manual labor teams. While there is quite a bit of muscle necessary, precise training and education is vital. It takes a special kind of person to roll up their sleeves and work covered in grease under any weather conditions. Workrite appreciates the effort put in by oil rig workers and roughnecks around the world.