7 Reasons Why Oilfield Injuries Still Happen
March 25, 2020 @ 10:15 am
Despite regulations, safety technology, smart systems, company policies, protocols and training, oilfield injuries still happen. Working in, on or around an oilfield or oil rig work site is dangerous—one of the most dangerous jobs there is. That fact, paired with truly unpredictable conditions, means that oilfield and oil rig workers still get hurt offshore—often through no fault of their own.
Many of these accidents are preventable, however, and happen for all the wrong reasons. This leaves workers injured or worse — unable to earn their livelihood, support themselves, or take care of their families. All too often, oilfield injuries continue to happen because of the same common reasons. Many of the following incidents happened because of a combination of those reasons.
1. Miscommunication During Repetitive, Dangerous Work
In October of 2015, a roustabout began his first day as a floor hand. He was spotting for the assistant driller operating a Main Hydra Racker that transported 125-foot-long pipe stand assemblies from a setback area to the drill center. The spotter’s job was to verify that latches on both the upper and lower fingerboards on the stand’s path were open before the HR arms retracted, report latch positions via a handheld radio, keep the setback area clean, apply thread lubricant to the stands and renumber each stand with a paint stick.
The spotter was successful for the first 31 stands. On stand 32, the pipe caught on a closed fingerboard latch and began to bow. The spotter had stepped to the setback area. The claw holding the pipe failed, recoiling and striking the spotter. The entire process from retrieval of stand 32 to impact took just eight seconds, and the claw’s force of impact killed the spotter instantly.
2. Equipment Failures and Lack of Equipment
In September of 2019, a drilling operation in Australia had a drill line crash to the rig’s drill floor. NOPSEMA’s investigation found that the drill line had recently been replaced, but the draw works operator had no way of measuring the amount of tension applied to the drill line.
The tension exceeded the wire rope snake’s breaking strength and resulted in the crash, which seriously injured one worker. The day before, the failure of two mooring chains on the same rig had prompted the company employing it to announce that it was curtailing its drilling program offshore.
3. Inexperience Meets Human Error
In June of 2013, a natural gas well caught fire when high-pressure gas “flowed through the blowout preventer.” The Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement investigation determined that crews had reportedly miscalculated the drilling fluid’s density and the possible high-temperature ranges involved. Forty-four people were evacuated.
BSEE also determined that rig-floor personnel had failed to recognize early signs of the kick, unaware of a problem until completion fluid—zinc bromide—spewed from the drill pipe. The crew suffered injuries from direct eye and skin exposure to the liquid chemical.
4. Unclear Safety Policies and Procedures
In May and June of 2019, in two separate incidents, workers on offshore oil platforms southwest of New Orleans fell through open holes in platform decks. In the May incident, a nighttime production operator fell through unsecured grating and into the sea. The area had been marked only with a danger sign but no hard barrier or indicator for the specific danger.
In the June incident, two employees attempting to replace a well access hatch cover at night picked up what they thought was the correct cover. Not realizing they had exposed a hole, one stepped into it, falling about 90 feet to his death on the lower deck. The cover was unmarked and was the same color as the deck.
5. Insufficient Training and Certification for Dangerous Procedures
In June of 2019, a “routine and mandatory test” of lifeboat launch and retrieval capabilities on a Shell platform in the Gulf of Mexico turned fatal. During the retrieval process, “an incident occurred” that caused the lifeboat and personnel to plunge 75 feet to the water. One Shell employee and one contractor were killed in the exercise.
6. Unsafe Practices for Profit
An onshore rig disaster happened in January of 2018 in Quinton, Oklahoma, when an unbalanced well exploded, killing five men. The crew was drilling a gas well, removing pipe as drilling mud took its place. However, gas escaped to the surface and ignited because the mud used was too light. The lighter mud had been used purposely to save money and reportedly to attract potential investors. Additional evidence indicated that crews failed to test whether oil or gas was leaking into the bore and may have disabled alarms.
7. Changes in Legislation and Regulation
Recent changes in regulation have rolled back safety regulations put in place in 2016 to reduce the risks of blowouts during offshore drilling operations like the Deepwater Horizon disaster of 2010. Proposed changes include reducing testing times from half an hour to five minutes, limiting the number of connection points to a blowout preventer and relaxing other federal safety requirements—changes that the National Resources Defense Council predict will put workers at increased risk for injury.
Accidents happen for any number of reasons, but it doesn’t change the fact that an injury happened or that a negligent death took place. Reports can be hard to track down. Often an incident hits the news, but details are usually vague, citing that an investigation is underway. It may be many long months until an investigation is completed. Meanwhile, Louisiana’s one-year statute of limitations for personal injury or wrongful death is on the clock.
If you or someone you depend on has been hurt or suffered oilfield injuries, contact the personal injury attorneys at Morrow, Morrow, Ryan, Bassett & Haik. We have more than four decades of experience serving offshore and oilfield workers in Louisiana. We understand just how quickly an incident or accident can happen, and we know just how life-altering being hurt offshore can be. Contact us online, or call us at 1-800-356-6776 to schedule your free consultation.