You don’t have to be an oil rig worker to find the idea of an oil rig explosion terrifying. But for the workers who spend an average of twelve hours a day dealing with highly combustible materials, the risks are very real. Working on oil rigs is one of the most dangerous professions in the country. The potential for an explosion is always there. Help, on the other hand, is typically far away.
On January 22 of this year, fear turned into reality when an oil rig in eastern Oklahoma exploded. Medical helicopters landed at the site amid the plumes of black smoke that filled the air. Seventeen workers were rescued and sent to a secure site, leaving five missing workers behind. Sixteen escaped without major injuries. The remaining worker was airlifted to a hospital. The fates of those missing couldn’t be confirmed until the fire that followed the explosion diminished, and investigators could access the scene.
Reporters announced the following day that authorities had found the remains of the five workers. They had been in the area they were presumed to be working in. The “Dog House” was a room on the rig floor which serves as an office for the drilling crew. Officials are still looking into the explosion to determine the cause. They said their hope was to prevent anything like the incident from ever happening again.
People who lived near the site reported that the impact of the explosion killed their cattle. Investigators could get no closer than 100 feet from the rig for most of the day of the explosion due to the intensity of the fire. As devastating as the explosion was, it isn’t the first one of the year. The worries that workers have that it won’t be the last aren’t far-fetched. There are a number of causes of oil rig explosions. In most cases, they can be avoided.
Oil Rig Fires
Explosions and fires are the biggest concern of oil rig workers. All it takes is a little spark to come into contact with the gas or oil, and an earth-shattering explosion and never-ending fire are underway. The endless supply of fuel keeps the fire burning, with little chance of stopping it or of escaping. Of those two elements, the fire poses the greatest risk to the workers. This is especially true for offshore drilling platforms used to drill for natural gas and oil. These platforms serve as storage facilities for the flammable fuels they dig for until the vessel returns to shore.
Some of the most common causes of explosions on oil drilling platforms include:
Blowouts occur from uncontrolled releases of oil or natural gas from a well. Before pressure systems were designed to prevent blowouts, they occurred regularly and were often called gushers. Today, blowouts happen when the equipment meant to control the pressure fails. A spark can turn a blowout into a catastrophic fire.
Blowouts don’t usually happen without warning. Before the blowout, a kick might occur when the pressure balances off. If the workers fail to control the kick, then a blowout is likely to follow.
– Equipment Failure
Even with the advancements made today, the equipment used on oil rigs isn’t safe. To reduce the risk of dangers, employers need to enforce regulations in every area of the job. Offshore drilling is especially hazardous in comparison to other types of drilling. The locations are farther away from help when something goes wrong. Working offshore often means sending in helicopters to send injured workers to the hospital. The time this takes turns minor injuries into more serious ones.
Equipment failure has the potential to cause explosions in two ways. It can cause sparks that cause fuels to ignite. It can also fail to work and prevent carrying out a safety measure to prevent or lessen the impact of an explosion.
Negligence can occur in many ways and by different people. Cutting corners on equipment, failing to follow a safety program, and using tools for things other than their intended purpose are just some of the ways that negligence occurs. In the past, the average person didn’t know anything about oil rigs or the potential risks that workers coped with every day. Today, major occurrences like Deepwater Horizon have brought the potential for disastrous occurrences into the public eye. Hopefully, this will help make employers more stringent about following regulations and keeping workers safe.
It isn’t just the employer that can be guilty of negligence. The workers who don’t follow safety procedures, the companies that make the drilling platform, and anyone else who has a role in the process can be at fault. Even if the employer wasn’t aware of the standard, they can be found negligent if their actions or inactions resulted in an incident that injured and/or killed someone else.
Everyone who works on an oil rig in any position needs a better understanding of how an oil rig explosion happens. Learning, regulating, and enforcing safety guidelines can help prevent explosions and fires going forward. One thing these companies can count on is that when an incident occurs, investigators will be there to determine who was negligent and how it contributed to the devastation.
Some ways that negligence can lead to oil rig explosions and fires include:
Cutting, Welding, and Grinding
These jobs all require different tools, all of which have one thing in common: They create an open flame during use that can ignite a fire. Any time moving metal meets another metal surface, it produces sparks. Proper training, supervision, and awareness of the risks all need to be a priority.
Electrical tools are a common sight on a drilling platform. It’s important to use devices with approval for offshore platforms as a matter of safety. The use of tools should be limited to those jobs they were designed for and kept in good shape. Failing to keep power cords in good condition or having broken wires can lead to sparks.
Handling Combustible Fuels
Handling and storing gas and oil is naturally a dangerous situation. When it isn’t done according to procedure, it becomes a much greater hazard. It’s easy to think of oil rig explosions as serious accidents. But sometimes explosions and fires occur because a person is negligent. They might not see the risk of lighting a cigarette when no one is watching. There are also those instances where fires occur due to the intentional acts of another person. In either case, the resulting injuries are personal injuries caused by another person’s negligence or intent.
Most of us don’t consider the risk of fire caused by cooking. Workers spend long hours on a drilling rig and often rely on the services of an onboard cook. Even though a kitchen fire gets started in an area where there is little risk of coming into contact with fuel, fires sometimes spread quickly to other areas.
Lightening and storm damage are some of the ways that Mother Nature can cause damage to equipment. It can also lead to other issues that cause fires or explosions.
Deepwater Horizon Revisited
Most experts consider Deepwater Horizon the worst drilling rig explosion in history. It occurred on April 20, 2010, on the semi-submersible Mobile Offshore Drilling Unit that carried the name of Deepwater Horizon. Transocean owned the MODU, which was drilling for oil for BP just off the Louisiana coast. It started with an explosion and led to the subsequent fire, resulting in the sinking of the rig. Eleven workers died, with another seventeen injured.
A blowout caused Deepwater Horizon. In addition to the numerous injuries and fatalities, the disaster also resulted in a massive offshore oil spill into the Gulf of Mexico. To date, it is the largest accidental marine oil spill in the world and the largest environmental disaster in the country’s history.
Lawsuits soon followed, leading to a Louisiana judge’s decision that BP was 67% to blame. He put another 30% of the fault on Transocean, and the final 3% on the cement contractor, Halliburton. The judge called BP’s conduct reckless while labeling Transocean’s conduct and Halliburton’s conduct as negligent.
Oil rig workers know when they enter the job that it is a dangerous one. Any worker’s mistake could result in a major disaster. Working on an oil rig doesn’t afford workers the luxury of do-overs. There’s very little room for error. When an explosion or fire does happen, the fatalities are often numerous. Even those who survive must deal with severe injuries that last a lifetime. Some of the most common injuries caused by oil rig explosions and fires include:
- Burns – Burns caused by the fires following oil rig explosions tend to be severe. Deep burns can cause damage through different layers of the skin, down to the muscle, fat, and bones. Even though a worker might survive a serious burn, their wounds can lead to gangrene, amputation, and eventual death.
- Dismemberment – The loss of a limb can occur as a result of the force of the explosion. Being crushed, or having debris or equipment falling on them can also lead to amputations. Finally, a severe injury can result in the need for surgical removal of the limb.
- Crush Injuries – There is a lot of heavy machinery on an oil rig that can land on the worker during the explosion. Crush injuries can cause nerve damage, break or crush bones, cause internal bleeding and more.
- Spinal Injuries – Injuries to the spinal cord affect different areas of a person’s body. Depending on the point of injury and its severity, it can lead to difficulty with mobility, or partial or total paralysis.
- Brain Injuries – The brain is the machine that controls your entire body. The skull serves as a protective layer to keep damage from occurring to the brain. The high force created by an explosion can lead to a strong impact that causes injury to the brain. Some effects of brain injuries include loss of coordination, seizures, slurred speech, and more.
Determining Fault in an Oil Rig Explosion
Determining who is at fault for an oil rig explosion isn’t just about pointing fingers. It’s about getting compensation for the survivors with injuries and the families of those workers who lost their lives. Determining who is at fault is challenging. When a worker lights a cigarette and starts a fire, is the employee at fault? Or, is it the employer who failed to enforce safety regulations on the rig? Did improper storage of combustible substances allow the fire and impending explosion to happen? Many factors go into determining fault, and sometimes the answer is more than one person.
Employers are often found negligent when oil rig explosions occur. Sometimes it’s from failing to provide adequate training. Maybe they cut corners and failed to purchase the right equipment for the job. They can even be to blame if they have outdated safety measures in place. No one has a greater responsibility to make the oil rig safe than the employer. There’s no room for shortcuts when the risk is this great or the potential outcome is so fatal.
What to Do After an Oil Rig Accident
Determining who is at fault after an oil rig accident is important. It tells you who is responsible for your injury. But that doesn’t mean you should wait to find legal representation. Personal injury law is complicated; when injuries occur on the water, the legal process is even more complex. You have time limits to file your claim or else you risk losing the compensation you deserve.
Maritime law is a highly specialized legal area. You need a maritime personal injury lawyer who understands maritime law. The injuries from oil rig explosions are serious and often have a serious impact on the rest of your life. Your medical bills will probably last just as long. Don’t miss your chance to get compensation for your injuries. You have the right to live your life as comfortable and normally as possible.
Contact Naylor Law for a free evaluation of your case. We stand up for innocent victims like you. Let us explain your rights and help you take the next step towards winning your case.