In the maritime industry there are many different settings in which people work, and all have inherent risks that can lead to accidents, injuries, and even fatalities. Offshore jobs, such as those on oil rigs, natural gas platforms, and other locations not on ships, but out to sea can be very dangerous. Work aboard these kinds of platforms requires using heavy equipment, working in bad weather, and working long hours doing tasks that require skill and training. If something goes wrong at an offshore location, the results can be disastrous. If you work offshore and have been injured, maritime law gives you the right to seek compensation. If you die offshore your loved ones also have those rights.
There are many ways in which accidents can occur on offshore rigs and platforms. Accidents that cause environmental damage most often make the news and these are largely drilling accidents. When drilling for oil or gas at the bottom of the ocean, a misstep can lead to a leak or a gush of oil or petroleum that has devastating consequences for ocean environments. Workers can be harmed in these accidents too. Fires caused by leaks are a major concern for workers on oil rigs. As with workers on a ship, there may not be an easy way to escape when a fire breaks out and this can lead to falls off the rig, smoke inhalation, burns, and even deaths. Fires and explosions represent the third-leading cause of fatalities on oil rigs and platforms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
Mechanical failures of equipment or misuse of the heavy equipment used in drilling on platforms can also cause accidents. According to the CDC, contact with equipment and machinery was the second-leading cause of death on oil rigs. The incidents recorded included mechanical failures and a loss of engine power on the rig. From 2003 to 2010, these kinds of accidents caused eight deaths.
The leading cause of accidents and fatalities for oil rig and platform workers is related to transportation. Workers must be transported to and from offshore rigs, and these trips are dangerous. Most deaths occurred when workers were being flown by helicopter, and bad weather was most often to blame. Workers may also be transported to rigs by ship or boat and these also account for a significant number of fatal accidents.
Finally, workers on offshore rigs and platforms are also at risk of being exposed to dangerous and toxic chemicals, including oil and gas that is the purpose of the job. Exposure is the fourth-leading cause of death for these workers, but accidents that lead to exposure can also cause illnesses and injuries in addition to fatalities.
The various types of accidents that most commonly occur on oil rigs and platforms cause too many unfortunate fatalities, but they also lead to injuries for many workers lucky enough to survive the incidents. The ultimate cause of these accidents may be bad weather, operator error, mechanical failures with equipment, fatigue caused by long working hours, or improper training of workers or lack of safety training and equipment.
Whatever causes the accidents, the resulting injuries most often include those that may range from mild to severe and life-threatening. Weather can cause hypothermia or falls overboard. Accidents with equipment can lead to head injuries, neck injuries, shoulder injuries, lost limbs and amputations, cuts, and lacerations. Fires cause burns and respiratory illnesses. Exposure to chemicals can cause rashes and respiratory distress, as well as burns. Transportation accidents that aren’t fatal may lead to broken bones, hypothermia, and back, neck, and head injuries.
Examples of Accidents and Disasters
Accidents that occur offshore are often spectacular in nature, and many of these make the news. Other accidents are less newsworthy, but still cause damage, injury, and deaths. The Deepwater Horizon incident in the 2010 Gulf of Mexico blowout was one such spectacular incident. An explosion on the offshore rig led to a huge oil spill and the worst environmental disaster in the history of the U.S. The accident also injured 16 workers and killed 11 more. Those 11 were never recovered and were thought to have been near the explosion when it happened.
Another fire aboard a Gulf of Mexico natural gas platform occurred in 2013, although this one was much less serious. A blowout occurred and started the fire. Forty-four workers aboard the rig were safely evacuated. The fire was put out fairly quickly and the hurried response not only kept the workers safe and uninjured, but prevented another spill that could have created more environmental damage.
One of the worst offshore accidents ever to occur happened on the Piper Alpha oil rig in the North Sea in 1988. An explosion and resulting fires led to the death of 167 workers. Only 61 people survived the incident. The incident also caused a huge amount of monetary damage, as it destroyed the platform which had been pumping out ten percent of all oil and gas from the North Sea.
Worker’s Rights under Maritime Law
Clearly, working aboard an offshore oil rig or gas platform is dangerous. If this is your job you put yourself at risk of not just injury, but also death, every day. If you have been injured in an offshore accident, you have rights to compensation according to maritime law. One law that specifically covers offshore workers is the Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act. Because other aspects of maritime law only cover seamen or longshoremen, this law was designed to protect oil rig and platform workers. It also protects the dependent loved ones of workers, so that if you die on the job your loved ones will not be left without compensation.
If you have fallen victim to one of these tragic accidents and you don’t think your employer is compensating you adequately, you can file a claim to get what you are owed. Let a professional and experienced maritime lawyer represent you and help you through the claims process. Your loved ones can also count on an attorney to help them make claims if necessary.