Oil rigs are large structures located in offshore or deep water areas, designed for the exploration and drilling of oil and gas reserves. They are important components of the oil and gas industry. However, their inherent structural complexity poses numerous potential hazards that put the workers’ lives and the environment at risk.
As one of the most hazardous industries, with high injury and fatality rates, it is crucial to understand the dangers associated with oil rigs and devise effective risk management strategies to mitigate these risks.
Why are oil rigs high risk?
Oil and gas industry plays a critical role in the development of the world economy. While oil and gas drilling operations are considered as the major operation in which petrochemicals are extracted, it is highly associated with life-threatening risk factors for drilling crews.
The oil and gas industry is hazardous due to several factors. For example, the constant proximity of workers to heavy machinery, high-pressure lines, and combustible materials makes it a high-risk environment.
Furthermore, offshore rigs are subject to extreme weather conditions, including hurricanes, cyclones, and heavy seas, which can cause rig failure, leading to injuries or fatalities. To aggravate things, the remote location of offshore rigs also complicates rescue and emergency response operations, putting workers at additional risk.
According to Mithoff Law, a law firm specialising in oil rig accident cases, some of the primary reasons for oil rig accidents include human error, equipment failure, and inadequate training. For example, an oil rig worker may ignore safety procedures, leading to a fire or explosion, or a piece of equipment may malfunction, causing severe injuries or fatalities.
A variety of accidents and potential accidents await those who make their living on oil rigs. The level of risk is made even greater by the types of accidents that occur on the rigs, as they are often more serious and life-threatening than the typical workplace accident.
What are the hazards of oil rigs?
For decades, hundreds of accidents and fatalities have been recorded at onshore and offshore oil and drilling sites. Most of these accidents have been due to the unpredictable and hazardous nature of several chemicals, environmental, safety and ergonomic hazards, such as:
1. Fire and explosion hazards
Oil and gas are highly flammable and can ignite easily, leading to fires and explosions. These hazards can result from equipment failure, human error, or a natural disaster.
2. Chemical exposure hazards
Generally, drilling operations are highly associated with chemical hazards. This is because drilling crews have to deal with several drilling fluids and chemicals-based muds.
For example, oil rigs use a range of hazardous chemicals, such as drilling mud, naturally occurring radioactive materials (NORM), lubricants, and solvents. In fact, workers may come into contact with deadly gases like Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S) through inhalation, ingestion, or skin contact, leading to respiratory, neurological, or skin disorders.
3. Physical hazards
Oil rigs involve heavy machinery, large equipment, and moving parts, creating the potential for crushing, struck-by, or caught-between accidents. Moreover, workers may be required to work at heights, increasing the risk of falls.
4. Environmental hazards
Offshore rigs are exposed to extreme weather conditions, such as hurricanes, high winds, and rough seas. These conditions can cause rig failure, leading to injuries or fatalities.
5. Ergonomic hazards
The workers in oil rigs are subject to repetitive motions, awkward postures, and heavy lifting, leading to musculoskeletal disorders like back pain, neck pain, and carpal tunnel syndrome.
6. Machine hazards
Oil rigs involve numerous machines, such as drills, cranes, and compressors, which pose the risk of malfunction, leading to injuries or fatalities.
Oil rigs require workers to work at great heights, increasing the risk of falls. Slipping and tripping oil rigs are also common causes of injuries.
8. Vehicle collisions
Oil drilling uses various types of vehicles, such as boats, helicopters, and trucks, which can collide, causing injuries or fatalities.
9. Struck-by/ Caught-in/ Caught-between
Oil rig workers may be struck-by or caught in machinery, leading to severe injuries or fatalities.
10. Confined spaces
Oil rigs have confined spaces, such as tanks, wells, and storage containers, which can present hazards such as oxygen deficiency, fire, or explosion.
Risk management for offshore oil rigs hazards
Oil and gas drilling operations are one of the most intricate and state-of-the-art process in the petrochemical industrial realm. There are multiple operations and activities involved in the oil and gas exploration process that pose potential and life-threatening risks and hazards.
As such, risk management is highly critical. Here are some of the risk management techniques that organisations can implement.
Preparing in advance for emergencies
Offshore rigs should have well-defined emergency procedures, including evacuation plans, rescue operations, and communication protocols. Workers should be trained to respond effectively to fires, explosions and other emergencies and be aware of the location of safety equipment.
These procedures should be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure that they remain effective.
Creating strict safety procedures for workers
All workers on offshore oil rigs should be trained in safety procedures and should be required to follow them at all times.
This includes wearing appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), following safe work practices, and reporting any unsafe conditions or behaviours.
Supervisors and managers should also be trained to enforce these procedures and to take corrective action when necessary.
Following inspection and maintenance protocols
Regular inspections and maintenance of specialised equipment and facilities are essential to identifying and correcting potential hazards. This entails checking for signs of wear and tear, corrosion, and other damage, as well as ensuring that all equipment is functioning properly.
Any issues should be promptly addressed to prevent accidents and injuries.
Use of technology for risk management
Advancements in technology have allowed for new ways to manage risk on offshore oil rigs.
For example, remote monitoring systems can detect potential problems before they become serious, and drones can be used to inspect hard-to-reach areas. Software programs can also help to identify trends and patterns in safety data, allowing for more proactive risk management.
Conduct routine housekeeping
Keeping floors and work areas clear of unnecessary items and cleaning up drilling fluids that collect on the rig floor during pipe-handling operations may prevent trips and falls.
It is also important to display visible signage that easily directs workers to emergency and safety equipment, to combat hazards quickly.
Safety regulations and standards for oil rigs
The oil and gas industry is subject to a variety of safety regulations and standards, designed to protect workers and the environment.
Here are some of the key regulations and standards that apply to offshore oil rigs:
- The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is responsible for regulating offshore oil and gas operations in the UK. These “Offshore Oil and Gas Operations – Regulations 2015” set out the requirements for safe operation, including requirements for risk assessments, emergency response planning, and safety management systems.
- The International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP) has developed a number of recommended guidelines and standards for occupational health and safety in the petroleum industry. These include guidance on the use of PPE, the management of chemical hazards, and the prevention of falls from height.
- The European Commission has also established regulations for offshore oil and gas operations, through the “Offshore Safety Directive – EU Directive 2013/30/EU“. This directive requires operators to demonstrate that they have effective safety management systems in place and requires member states to carry out regular inspections to ensure compliance.
- In Australia, the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage (Safety) Regulations 2009 set out the requirements for the safe operation of offshore petroleum facilities. These include requirements for risk assessments, emergency response planning, and safety management systems.
- Finally, the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine has developed guidance on safety management systems for the oil and gas industry. Their report, “Safety Management Systems for the Oil and Gas Industry“, provides recommendations for improving safety culture, leadership, and communication, as well as for integrating safety into all aspects of operations.
Conclusion- Future of safety in oil rig operations
The safety of personnel working on offshore oil rigs is of utmost importance. As technology advances, new ways of identifying and managing risks will become available.
As such, it is up to both employers and employees to ensure that these advances are utilised to minimise risks and prevent accidents and injuries.
Additionally, the industry must continue to prioritise safety through ongoing education and training of personnel, regular equipment maintenance and inspection, and adherence to established safety regulations and standards.
Finally, offshore reefer containers can also play a role in the safe transportation of oil and gas products.
These containers are designed to keep the products within them at a stable temperature and can help prevent explosions or fires that may occur due to temperature fluctuations.
A graduate (Business) from KDU, Jason Tan, is the current Business Director (Sales) for MGS Icestorm and has been associated with the company for the past 10 years.
With over 13 years in the shipping industry, he has had a significant contribution to Malaysia’s oil and gas industry in the engine and boat supply sector.
His expertise includes managing offshore catering business, offshore reefer containers, AI technology, offshore gas tanks, A60 pressurized cabins, etc. His contributions have helped establish MGS, in partnership (joint venture) with Thermo King and Honeywell to produce state of art Offshore Reefer Container products.