Oil rig accident claims


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Along with being a stunt man, mountain guide in the Himalayan foothills, a firefighter, a roofer, an astronaut, bodyguard, landmine remover, miner, deep sea fisherman, lumberjack and Mariah Carey’s PA, the role of oil rig worker is arguably one of the most dangerous vocations in the world.

Having said that sitting in front of a computer all day might also be considered equally as dangerous (if not to short term health than longer term) on the grounds that it pretty much destroys your cardiovascular and skeletal systems. Plus it’s also a really boring way to shorten your life.

Getting back to oil rigs though, and potential dangers lie around many corners, substantiated by a wealth of Health and Safety Executive stats. For any non-believers look no further than HSE’s official 2011/2012 figures which purported that during that particular period some 95 of the injuries which were accounted for led to upwards to three days off work, whilst there were 39 reported cases of major injuries being sustained by oil rig workers, two of which proved fatal.

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Why are oil rigs such dangerous environments to work in?

Well their typical locations, geographically-speaking, make them more prone to harm befalling employees, in as much as they’re situated a long way off-shore, meaning that air or sea are the only means by which to access them.

So in the event of an employee succumbing to an accident they’ll need to be transported to the nearest ‘local’ hospital by helicopter; making the journey to A&E not quite as local as it might otherwise be if the victim was on the mainland when they were injured, with journeys to seek urgent medical attention of many miles not uncommon practice.

OK, I get that. But what about actual situations which may lead to injuries to oil rig workers that might present?

These can be numerous and tend, historically, to have been caused by on-site fires and/or explosions on various scales, yet can also include transportation accidents (flights to and from the platforms for example) and contact with heavy objects and/or specialist equipment used on the rigs.

Elsewhere and other identified risk factors which are often cited as being prevalent reasons why injuries and fatalities may occur – and in many ways unique to these specific working environs – include the platforms themselves (and individual employees within) being exposed to hostile and climatically adverse weather conditions, oil rigs collapsing and/or subsequently sinking, oil leaks on readily accessed walkways (oil is of course both slippery and highly flammable, don’t forget), employees being subject to a plethora of toxic substances and the routine facilitation of heavy machinery  amongst other elements.

What are the most common types of injuries suffered by oil rig workers?

On a broader scope, and lacking certain details, it’s understood that the most common injuries facing oil rig workers (both collectively and individually) are encompassed by the inclusion of slips, trips and falls, whilst you can generally add in exposure to toxic substances and injuries triggered by involvement with heavy machinery to the above citation.

Scratching the surface a little deeper and you’ll traditionally find a number of other usual suspects when it comes to injuries most associated with oil rigs, and they usually comprise of any of the following;

Burns – Whether they happen as a direct result of coming into close contact with the abovementioned toxic chemicals commonplace on drilling platforms, or alternatively caused by actual fires and explosions (which can be the consequence of the release of compressed chemical pressure acting as the blue touch-paper when introduced to extremely flammable oils and gasses by way of a single, combustible spark), the end product can be the infliction of painful burns and scarring of the skin on employees working close by at the time.

Brain and head injuries – Due to the construct of oil rigs, employees can often find themselves working at great heights, and should they lose their grip/footing when fulfilling their duties at such lofty heights then they are just as likely to damage their heads, brains and spinal cords as their fall is broken.

Conversely they can be equally as exposed to cranium damage (which could easily impact their physical state thereafter in the form of paralysis) should they be struck from tools falling from above. Again, similar injuries could manifest if they suffer a slip or fall on slippery decks or surfaces on the rig itself.

Exposure to toxic fumes – An array of volatile chemicals and noxious substances are a constant threat to oil rig workers, due to the very nature of the field in which they choose to work.

The prolonged exposure to/inhalation of fumes which readily emit from such potentially lethal substances and chemically-instigated compounds can cause respiratory problems, brain damage, and other health conditions in workers.

Amputations – Given certain aspects which working on an oil rig entails, significantly sizeable and weighty machinery and equipment is used and operated on a regular basis, and should these be used in an incorrect and unsafe manner then there’s every chance that they could be indirectly responsible for causing a catalogue of injuries to staff. These could, realistically, include crushing or severing a person’s limbs or other body parts in the process.

Are there any well-documented oil rig accidents which I may be aware of?

Yes. Most people will have heard of the Piper Alpha disaster which happened on this particular oil drilling platform located in the North Sea back in July 1988, and which to this day remains the worst offshore oil disaster in history. 167 oil rig workers lost their lives in that one incident alone.

Why DO accidents happen on oil rigs?

Very good question. There are numerous reasons why accidents may happen on drilling platforms, and a lot of the time this can be put down to human error, complacency or negligence on behalf of the employer. Accidents have a tendency to occur for the following reasons in the main:

  • Carelessness (or recklessness)
  • Safety procedures not in place (or outdated/no longer fit for purpose)
  • Lack of proper training
  • Lack of proper communication
  • Delays in equipment maintenance (or repair)

In terms of the more recurrent causes behind oil rig workers falling victim to injuries include;

  • Negligent (or improperly/insufficiently trained) workers/operatives on the rig
  • Improperly stored chemicals or substances
  • Gas leaks
  • High pressure in wells
  • Falling objects, tools, or debris
  • Cable (or block) breaks
  • Slips, trips, and falls
  • Faulty and poorly maintained grating, pipe tongs, and other types of equipment
  • Improperly used tools, machinery, or equipment
  • Combustible chemicals and substances
  • Explosions
  • Careless (or reckless) behaviour displayed by workers
  • Delayed equipment repair or maintenance
  • Poor communication on the rig

But what about Health and Safety on oil rigs, whose responsibility is that?

As with most companies, organisations and authorities, fundamental health and safety practice, procedure and implementation is the sole responsibility of the employer who are contractually obliged to provide (and ensure at all times) a safe working environment for all staff under their employ, as a core part and parcel of ‘duty of care’ principles.

Focusing on the way this would be undertaken in relation to oil rigs and for the most part the following stipulations must be adhered to:

  • The owner of the oil rig (or operator) MUST create safety procedures and oversee the implementation of those procedures. They must also ensure that all safety procedures are kept up to date
  • The owner/operator MUST ensure that all staff receive the necessary training to make sure they can carry out their roles safely and efficiently
  • The employer MUST always act responsibly and carefully when making decisions about the operation of the rig
  • All equipment and machinery MUST be stringently maintained. Any damaged equipment must be repaired immediately.  No equipment must be used unless it’s in full working order
  • Communication is vital and any new procedures or changes to existing procedures MUST be communicated to the relevant members of staff. Breakdowns in communication can cause accidents
  • Employers are responsible for issuing staff with all necessary safety equipment such as goggles, gloves and protective clothing

What about oil rig personnel themselves. What can THEY do to safeguard against potential accidents?

There are a host of things oil rig workers can do to ensure that they have taken all possible precautions they can prior to embarking on the key remits of their own roles aboard drilling platforms.

They consist of the following accident prevention measures and protocols;

  • ALWAYS complete a thorough job safety analysis – Prior to the commencement of a shift, collectively analyse the to-do list to be performed that day; making notes of any potential hazards involved and actions needed to eliminate (or minimise) the risk of injury
  • ALWAYS use proper protective equipment – Wear protective equipment which is designed to protect you from injury (or illness). Eye and hearing protection, safety boots, gloves and hard hats (and any other PPE-determined garments) should always be worn on pipeline job sites
  • ALWAYS operate heavy machinery/equipment in a safe manner – Equipment operators must read and understand the Operation and Maintenance Manuals re: all equipment they operate on an oil rig. Before using into a machine, be sure you understand the operating controls, proper operation procedures and have assessed the operating conditions
  • ALWAYS be mindful of walking and working surfaces – Slips, trips and falls are best avoided with good housekeeping. Keep walkways clear of tools (welding leads, extension cords, etc) and debris; clean spills immediately and make it clear others are expected to act accordingly at all times
  • ALWAYS look to engage your mind before your hands – Protect your hands. On drilling platforms a significant volume of hand injuries result from unsafe work practices. Use caution and gloves appropriate for the job at hand
  • ALWAYS follow safe pressure testing procedures – Inspect all equipment and materials required by the written test procedure, ensuring it is in safe working order and rated to withstand the test pressures. Also clear the test area of unauthorized personnel
  • ALWAYS understand (and follow) safe practices for material handling – When handling heavy loads, proper load handling ensures the safety of everyone on the platform. Keep manufacturer’s load recommendations readily available and never load equipment beyond its capacity

How to make a claim for compensation following an oil rig accident

In the event of you being involved in an accident which wasn’t your fault, and is proved to have been caused by your employer’s negligence (or that of a third party), then you will be entitled to make a claim for financial compensation.

Bear in mind that there are time limits in place from the outset, which are referred to as ‘statutes of limitation’ which prevent you from submitting a claim after a certain amount of time has elapsed. Therefore it’s vital to consult with a personal injury claims solicitor as soon as possible in the wake of an accident. It’s their role to advise you on whether or not they believe in their professional estimation (and legal experience) if you have the grounds to make a claim or not; and if so, guide claimants as to what course of actions needs taking next.

For more information or to start your claim, get in touch with CL Legal now:

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