| Written by Mark Buzinkay

An oil rig manager is responsible for two things: ensuring operations in an efficient way and providing safety for his crew.  He or she will report results of both aspects to his superiors. Offshore oil rig safety is paramount and we discuss aspects of oil rig hazards in this blog post.
Oil rig hazards

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With demand for natural gas increasing these days and profits skyrocketing, it is more than expected for the offshore oil and gas sector to grow worldwide.

This said, drilling projects make big money and take an enormous workforce. Let's look at the job of an oil rig manager and his primary responsibilities: he ensures operations are handled efficiently and also help keep the crew safe. Besides coordinating with three to four crews and managing day-to-day drilling activities, he must adhere to oil rig safety practices and follow environmental and other government laws and policies. Not an easy job to oversee a large part of the operations for safety. Most of it is the day-to-day safety of the crew and making sure they have what they need to follow policies.

What Oil Rig Hazards exist?

In general, oil rig accidents and injuries result from the improper handling or maintenance of equipment. This includes a long list:

Struck-By/ Caught-In/ Caught-Between
60% of on-site fatalities in the oil and gas extraction sector result from struck-by/caught-in/caught-between hazards caused by moving vehicles or equipment, falling equipment, and high-pressure lines.

Workers must access platforms and equipment located high above the ground or sea. OSHA requires fall protection to prevent falls from the mast, drilling platform, and other elevated equipment.

Explosions and fires
Workers in the oil and gas sector are exposed to the risk of fire and explosion due to the ignition of flammable vapours or gases. Combustible gases, such as well gases, vapours, and hydrogen sulfide, can be released from wells, production equipment or surface equipment such as tanks and shale shakers. In the case of FPSOs, large amounts of crude oil are stored on the ship. Ignition sources can include static, electrical energy sources, open flames, lightning, cigarettes, cutting and welding tools, hot surfaces, and frictional heat.

Confined spaces
Workers on offshore oil rigs and FPSOs are often required to enter confined spaces such as petroleum and other storage tanks and other confined spaces around a wellhead. Oil rig safety hazards associated with confined space include ignition of flammable vapours or gases. Health hazards include asphyxiation and exposure to hazardous chemicals.

Ergonomic hazards
One of the most experienced hazards is ergonomics-related injury risks, such as lifting heavy items, bending, reaching overhead, pushing and pulling heavy loads, working in awkward body postures, and performing the same or similar tasks repetitively. However, risk factors and the resulting injuries can be mitigated or, in many cases, eliminated through interventions such as pre-task planning, use of the right tools, proper placement of materials, education of workers about the risk, and early recognition and reporting of injury signs and symptoms.

High-pressure lines and equipment
Compressed gases or high-pressure lines create another set of hazards. Internal erosion of lines might result in leaks or line bursts, exposing workers to high-pressure risks from compressed gases or high-pressure lines. If connections securing high-pressure lines fail, struck-by hazards might be created.

Electrical and Other Hazardous Energy
Uncontrolled electrical, mechanical, hydraulic, or other energy sources can be hazardous if the equipment is not designed, installed, and maintained properly. Additionally, administrative controls such as operating procedures must be developed and implemented to ensure safe operations.

Machine Hazards
The most significant risk is rotating wellhead equipment, including top drives and Kelly drives, draw works, pumps, compressors, catheads, hoist blocks, belt wheels, and conveyors. They might be injured if they are struck by or caught between unguarded machines.

Vehicle Collisions and flight accidents
Workers and equipment are required to be transported to and from well sites. Wells are often located in remote areas and travel long distances to get to the sites. As a result, highway vehicle crashes are the leading cause of oil and gas extraction worker fatalities. Roughly four of every ten workers killed on the job in this industry are killed due to a highway vehicle incident. For offshore rigs, the transport to and from the helipad falls into this category. The flight to and from the offshore platform is generally very safe, but proper training in an emergency landing is essential.


Learn more about HSE offshore


Oil rig hazards and measures

There is a set of suggestions and recommendations on mitigating hazards at oil rigs. A quick fix would include reliable lighting for low-light or confined areas, keeping work surfaces dry and slip-proof, wearing properly cleaned waterproof boots, providing toolbox kits for repair, safety and first aid. On an offshore oil rig, it's necessary to react safely to hazards on the job—especially unexpected ones, such as weather or a malfunction when a timed machine suddenly turns on. This is where experience, industry knowledge, and training gained through the years kick in (Related: see how the Great Crew Change may impact safety on an offshore oil rig). For an oil rig manager, job hazards are present every day in various situations. This means that workers must vigilantly navigate their job and safety plans through rotating and moving equipment, fatigue from long hours or shift work.

Being mindful is essential for everyone on the oil rig. The repetitive motions of the job can sometimes cause workers to take shortcuts. Grabbing without a glove or forgetting to wear safety glasses are the most common occurrences. Being aware of surroundings is important as well. A bump into specific machines or equipment can cause hazards. Slips, trips, and falls on the metal stairways in certain weather conditions or just being in a hurry are other safety precautions crews should be mindful of.

With technological changes, crews should stay mindful of new safety procedures that require dynamic thinking. For example, with the heavy presence of overhead equipment, a person moving up and down on the derrick must consistently know their positioning, especially on windier days. Knowing when those machines start and stop is a big help in safety.


Risk assessments on offshore oil rig hazards

Risk assessments, hazard identification and demonstrating safe practices are part of an oil rig manager's daily duties. Safety has to be the top priority. The hazards are always there. Whether it's dangerous is based on the safety policies in place. Planning and preventing incidents include:

  • Knowing the hazards: Many companies within the oil and gas industry use the Job Safety Analysis Process (JSA or Job Hazard Analysis - JHA) to identify risks and find solutions.
  • Safe practices: Establishing ways to protect workers by implementing safe procedures for confined spaces, chemical handling and exposure, electrical work, equipment/machine hazards, fall and fire protection, power sources, and work conditions.
  • Personal protective equipment (PPE)
  • Communicating the hazards: train oil rig workers and contractors.

There is no one-solution-for-all for oil rig safety, but developing an emergency response plan based on the rigs' workflow, which will differ depending on the rig, is the right way to go forward. Avoiding, mitigating, and warning safety hazards is the proper strategy to face oil rig hazards and implement a safety management regime (learn more about emergency mustering).


Oil Rig Safety Whitepaper Full Text online