What Causes Oil Rig Accidents?
What Causes Oil Rig Accidents?
News & Insights

What Causes Oil Rig Accidents?

How dangerous is working on an oil rig? International Safety and Hygiene News named derrick and rig work the #3 most dangerous profession

Oil rig accidents are unfortunately common. Oil rig workers’ claims run from personal injury to wrongful death. If you're a worker who's been injured in a drill rig accident, you need to find an experienced oil rig accident attorney.

5 Common Causes of Accidents Experienced by Oil Rig Workers

Dangers and the possibility of serious accidents lurk everywhere on an oil rig. Accidents include fires, blowouts, oil rig decompression accidents, and explosions. Rigs can capsize or sink, harming or killing rig workers. 

Common injuries include traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, and fatal accidents. Even smaller injuries can turn major when help is far away or cannot reach the rig in bad weather. 

Five common causes of oil rig accidents are:

  • Equipment malfunction
  • Lack of safety equipment
  • Weather
  • Explosions
  • Equipment maintenance

Heavy Equipment Malfunction

Faulty heavy machinery is a major cause of oil rig accidents. Every bit needs to have a system of safety checks and inspections. But some parts, like those underwater, are very difficult to monitor. 

Humans often cause equipment malfunctions. A communication error led to the Piper Alpha disaster, the world’s biggest offshore drill rig accident, in 1988. Someone left a repair half-completed with a safety valve removed and did not tell the night crew. This led to a gas leak and a massive oil rig explosion.

An oil rig decompression accident can be one of the scariest things that can happen to a rig worker. When rig workers have to check and repair equipment at depth undersea, they have to slowly and carefully decompress on their ascent back to the rig. Decompression sickness, as the body adjusts to changing nitrogen levels, can cause pain, paralysis, confusion, or death.

In 1983, the Byford Dolphin oil rig had a crew living at depth to ease compression and decompression. One crew member got the order of the decompression steps wrong, and some of the equipment was faulty as well. This caused explosive decompression, violently killing four divers. The gas extraction industries have to take the greatest care with equipment and with training their people to perform their duties correctly every time because the stakes are high. 

Lack of Safety Equipment

Rigs often lack their full complement of safety equipment because of decisions from the corporate level to decisions made on the rig itself. The need to cut costs facing slim profit margins on an expensive oil rig can override safety. Everyone needs to work together to avoid disasters.

Lack of safety equipment ties to lack of training on the safety equipment on the rig. Training takes time away from getting work done and becomes difficult to prioritize when you are in the middle of several other tasks.

Supervision is another factor often lacking. If workers do not use safety equipment correctly, it can cause as much harm as if it were missing. Supervisors overlooking negligent behavior or even joining in causes accidents. This negligence can lead to oil rig disasters. 

Extreme Weather Conditions in Oil Fields

Extreme weather holds oil rigs hostage in the middle of the sea. Hurricanes, gales, and other storms batter rigs yearly. Because these natural calamities happen on their own, there is no way to stop them. Strong winds and rogue waves can sink a rig. When extreme weather comes through, it can exacerbate other problems, such as a lack of safety equipment.

Some of the biggest disasters caused by extreme weather and the rig capsizing include the Alexander L. Kielland disaster in Norway, March 1980. It killed 123 people. A bracing on a platform leg had a fatigue crack and failed when tested by extreme weather. Following that, the Seacrest drillship disaster in November 1989 killed 91 workers. These are just the largest disasters — many more line up behind them. 

Massive Explosions

A small fire can lead to a massive oil rig explosion. On an oil rig, a spark is never far from combustible material. High-pressure oil and gas need constant supervision to make sure that a leak and a spark don’t happen near each other.

Firefighters using water fog spraying down fire from oil rig factory explosion

Firefighters using water fog spraying down fire from oil rig factory explosion

Blowouts are the most common cause of explosions. Pressure control systems should keep releases of gas or oil in check. However, this equipment can malfunction for several reasons, including when workers are not properly trained to maintain or use it correctly or if the equipment is faulty in the first place.

The BP Deepwater Horizon explosion was the biggest blowout in contemporary history. In 2010, a blowout preventer failed. This blowout killed 11 rig workers and spilled a massive amount of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. 

Failure to Maintain Equipment

Pipes corrode. Valves break. Cables are damaged. Even the best equipment will degrade. Blowout preventers are also important. Employers need to have a schedule for checking over everything because failure to do so can lead to an oil rig explosion.

OSHA lists the following equipment as places where maintenance is crucial: 

  • Rig floor
  • Drilling line maintenance
  • Wire rope maintenance
  • Mud circulating system
  • Generator, electric motors, and electrical systems
  • Engines
  • Derrick equipment maintenance

Hire an Experienced Oil Rig Accident Lawyer

If an oil rig accident has injured you or someone you love, you need an experienced oil rig injury lawyer. A tragic accident is not the time to go it alone against the oil and gas company. Dunn Sheehan has experience representing personal injury claimants. We have a reputation for collaborating with our clients and can give you a voice when you feel voiceless. 

Oil rig accidents can be caused by weather, equipment malfunction and maintenance, or lack of safety equipment. Small explosions can lead to massive ones, causing oil rig injury, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, catastrophic health problems, or wrongful death.

An injured worker's first step should be to contact an oil rig accident attorney. An attorney who knows the oil and gas industry can make a big difference in your case. Dunn Sheehan can find the appropriate resolution for your case. Contact Dunn Sheehan, and we will listen to your case and help you figure out what to do next.

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