Published On: Thu, Feb 26th, 2015

Oil Field Fails: Measures Underway to Keep Rig Workers Safe

Working in the oil and gas industry, mining, and other industries is dangerous. There’s just no two ways about it. Some jobs are inherently unsafe. Working on a rig in the middle of the ocean exposes workers to dangerous equipment, accidents, and even life-threatening conditions. But, states like Texas, and the federal government, are making regulatory changes in an attempt to make working conditions safer than ever. Will it work?

The Alarming Statistics

Some of the statistics from the industry are startling. While many people instinctively know that working out on an oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico is probably pretty dangerous, what’s not known by the general public is the kinds of dangers these workers face every single day.

Photo/Tech collector via wikimedia commons

Photo/Tech collector via wikimedia commons

Rigs are floating structures in the ocean, and they must drill under seabed. That in and of itself poses special engineering problems. But, environmental problems include oil and natural gas being leaked into the ocean, explosions that can consume the entire rig, leaving everyone aboard stranded, and the rig itself could become workers’ coffins.

The Deepwater Horizon oil rig, for example, had dug the world’s deepest offshore well before it exploded and sank in 2010.

The Eagle Ford shale has become the new darling of the oil industry. This onshore rig, however, posed problems for rig workers. Seven workers died on the job in 2012. One of the most common causes of death is “struck by.”

This means that a person is hit by something onsite. The most common “struck by” accidents occur when there’s an explosion or something breaks loose on the rig, like a piece of metal, and fatally wounds a worker.

According to some statistics, from 2003 to 2008, there were 648 workers killed nationwide in the oil and gas industry. This is 8 times the average fatality rate for all occupations.

Risk of death increases when oil companies require workers to drill 24/7 in all weather conditions. Most of the time, workers are exposed to extreme weather and they must use large and heavy equipment and machines to do their jobs.

They must move heavy pipes and other metal equipment. They must work fast and work 12 hour shifts for 2 weeks at a time with no days off.

Smaller companies experience higher death rates than larger companies.

But, in general, according to the Houston Chronicle, Texas accounts for about 40 percent of all U.S. oil field-related deaths (between 2007 and 2012). And, while many companies employ good safety practices, many do not. In fact, some companies show no concern for worker safety.

In 2012 alone, 79 people suffered injuries that caused them to lose a limb, 82 people were crushed, and 92 individuals suffered serious burns.

Meanwhile 675 people broke bones in work-related accidents that were reported to insurers.

When demand for oil is high, the risk increases to workers. Why? Because more demand means higher production yields are needed. And, some workers that come onto rigs aren’t seasoned “roughnecks.” They’re people who’ve never worked in an oil field before. They don’t really know what to expect.

They’re often put on older rigs that are pulled back into service – rigs with safety features that aren’t as well-designed as what’s on newer rigs.


One way for companies to lower death rates is to employ better safety measures. But, some companies are resistant to the idea. Houston personal injury lawyer Hugh Howerton has experience with oil field-related injuries.

For the most part, improving safety wouldn’t be a concern on drilling sites because companies need to hit benchmarks, there’s a general sense of “get ‘er done” and speed (and time) is critical. All of this adds up to a recipe for disaster.

That’s also why states like Texas support a program called STEPS. The South Texas Exploration and Production Safety Network (STEPS) promotes safety and health and environmental improvement in the oil and natural gas industries.

At the federal level, OSHA controls the safety standards of the workforce. OSHA requires that workers have a safe place to work, and the law generally requires employers to provide employees with working conditions that are free of known dangers.

OSHA laws also prohibit employers from retaliating against employees for exercising their rights under the law.


OSHA laws allow workers to file a complaint against their employer by calling 1-800-321-6742 or visiting the online website of OSHA and filing a complaint through the eComplaint Form system.

The laws on safe employer requirements for a safe workplace can be found here.

Guest Author :

Voted TOP 100 Texas trial lawyers, Hugh Howerton is a veteran trial lawyer who has specialized in serious personal injury and wrongful death cases for 27 years. He enjoys sharing his research and insight through blogging.

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