A Law Firm’s Perspective: Is Offshore Drilling Safe?

May 24, 2024 @ 6:49 pm

Offshore drilling is a multi-billion-dollar, high-stakes industry, and employment in that field can be extremely lucrative. To mitigate the risks of the job environment, extensive measures are put in place to ensure the safety of everyone involved—advanced technologies, environmental systems, regulatory laws and industry-standard best practices. 

However, despite all of these efforts to make operations safer, the complexity of the risks associated with offshore drilling mean a career in this industry may come with a steep personal price. Let’s take a look at the risks of working offshore to see how safe it is, and how you can lower your chances of getting hurt.

The Dangers of Offshore Drilling

Offshore drilling involves extracting oil and gas from deep beneath the ocean floor, and the high pressures involved can create challenging working conditions. Operations rely on a wide range of complex equipment, machinery and systems that must operate under the harshest of conditions. 

Meanwhile, any number of malfunctions, accidents or human mistakes can create a dangerous situation instantly. Here are the most common accidents that occur from our experience:

  • Falls and Structural Hazards: Offshore platforms can be 150 to more than 1,500 feet tall. They’re designed to be as compact and efficient as possible, so work spaces are often confined and multi-purpose. Add to that the presence of heavy operating equipment that’s moving and making enough noise to interfere with communications, and what might be a seemingly simple task on land can become a feat of strength, agility and awareness offshore.
  • Fire and Exposure to Chemical Hazards: Offshore drilling is chemical-intensive from both the solutions and compounds used for the process and the chemicals that can be created or released during the process. Drilling fluids, corrosion inhibitors and biocides as well as hydrogen sulfide, volatile organic compounds and heavy metals can pose serious to deadly injury and health risks.
  • Equipment Malfunctions: Blowout preventers may fail, or well control system components like valves or actuators may malfunction, making controlling oil flow difficult or even impossible. Sudden releases of oil and gas can result in explosions, fires and blowouts. Drilling equipment, power generators, and even crane failures can have devastating consequences.
  • Extreme Weather Conditions: Offshore platforms in the Gulf of Mexico are subject to hurricanes and tropical storms, high winds, severe thunderstorms, fog, high waves and swells, strong tidal currents and rapidly changing conditions. All of these pose risks for the workers on the platform, as well as those in transit to and from the platform..
  • Transportation Risks: Workers are often ferried to and from offshore platforms by helicopter. Accidents during takeoff or landing, mechanical failures, and just the simple process of workers embarking or disembarking are regular dangers. Likewise, crew boats and other vessels may collide with other vessels or the platform, become grounded or capsize. Under certain conditions, platforms themselves may have stability, navigation and safety issues.

While some accidents may deal with only one of these areas, many more are the result of a number of dangers or risks coming together. Things like human misjudgment of weather conditions, equipment malfunctions due to lack of maintenance, and difficulty during transport takeoff or landing can all happen at once.

Ways to Reduce the Dangers of Offshore Drilling

The oil and gas industry and regulatory agencies are definitely aware of the dangers of offshore drilling. They’ve even identified critical factors that reduce safety risks to workers and, in turn, help to protect their associated financial investments and the environment as well. Here are some of the tactics used today to make this work safer:

  • Advanced Technology: Technological advances in the industry are typically geared to not only increase productivity and efficiency but also make processes more streamlined, offer higher standards through monitoring and often incorporate safety measures. Trading outdated equipment that may no longer be compatible with current capabilities and standards ensures everyone has the tools and equipment they need to do their job in a safer way.
  • Enhanced Safety Regulations: Agencies like the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Coast Guard are instrumental in overseeing and regulating offshore drilling activities in the US. Their primary focus is on ensuring the safety of workers, protecting the environment and promoting responsible development of offshore resources.
  • Standard Safety Procedures and Protocols: Offshore drilling companies should have their own established standard safety procedures and protocols readily accessible to all employees. Standard safety procedures ensure consistency among all workers as well as compliance with regulations. Things as simple as ensuring everyone uses the proper personal protective equipment reduce risk. Likewise, comprehensive safety management systems can be used to identify, assess and manage risks as well as set protocols for reporting and investigating incidents and responding to emergencies.
  • Safety Training and Education: Having regulations and standard protocols in place is a start, but educating and training workers ensures that they know the rules and how to proceed not only under normal circumstances but also when something doesn’t go to plan. Safety training gives workers risk awareness—a sense of the potential hazards, malfunctions and other adverse events to avoid—so that they can recognize developing dangerous situations and respond appropriately. Training is also essential for preventing accidents and ensuring everyone remains in compliance with regulations to avoid fines or other penalties. In short, providing consistent training and education promotes a safety culture and is key for retaining skilled workers.
  • Routine Maintenance Checks: Regular maintenance, inspections and equipment tests are essential to safety and preventing breakdowns and malfunctions. Addressing wear and tear and other minor issues can help to maximize the lifespan of equipment and keep it operating at top efficiency and safety levels.
  • Environmental Protection Measures: Many environmental protection measures—spill prevention, emergency response plans, air and water quality monitoring, and hazardous waste management, for example—also contribute to the health and safety of workers and help protect them from health risks and occupational hazards.
  • Stop Work Authority: Stop work authority is a power that workers have to halt any work or activity that they believe poses a safety risk or violates safety procedures. This means that on offshore drilling platforms, workers have the authority to interrupt drilling operations, stop equipment or intervene in other tasks if they recognize an issue like a potential or actual equipment malfunction, unsafe working conditions, environmental hazards or violations of safety protocols, for example.

All of these together represent a series of best practices for responsible companies who want to remain in compliance with federal regulations and maintain a culture of safety for their workers.

What to Do When Offshore Accidents Happen

Despite the most painstaking precautions, accidents can and do still happen. Just as drilling operations have standard protocols and procedures, accidents have them too.

  • Follow established workplace emergency protocols. If you are able to, do what you’ve been trained to do under the circumstances.
  • Get medical attention. Even if you initially believe yourself to be unharmed, seek medical attention. An adrenalin rush can temporarily mask injuries. Medical personnel familiar with the injuries typical to offshore drilling platform accidents know what to look for.
  • Report the incident. Immediately inform your supervisor as well as any designated safety personnel or emergency response team of the incident and its full details. Ensure a complete accident report is filed within the appropriate deadlines.
  • Document the incident and any injuries you may have sustained. Keep records of all correspondence and findings associated with the incident. Likewise, keep copies of all medical attention you may receive or require. Even though you will have filed an accident report, write down your own account of the incident. Creating a timeline may prove helpful, and you may also want to collect witness accounts and take photographs for future reference.
  • Secure legal advice. Offshore drilling accidents can involve complex legal issues like maritime law, worker’s compensation versus maintenance and cure, and who might be liable or at fault. You have certain rights under the law, but navigating the legal process can be challenging and complicated. A lawyer experienced in maritime law and offshore injuries can protect your rights and ensure you can access the full extent of compensation and damages.

When it comes to offshore drilling, the truth is that even when every safety measure is in place, accidents still happen. Meanwhile, the victims are left wondering what happens next. 

Don’t wait or wonder. If you’ve been involved in an offshore accident, contact the maritime attorneys of Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett and Haik online for your free consultation, or call us at (800) 356-6776. We understand the dangers of offshore drilling and are ready to protect your right to compensation.



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