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Legal Blog

Top Causes of Fatal Offshore Drilling Accidents

Offshore oil and gas extraction is crucial to the United States economy – and, it creates jobs for tens of thousands of workers. Offshore oil and gas operations include all activities related to the extraction of oil and natural gas from beneath the seafloor. While those working offshore often earn great wages, the dangers of the job are well known to the companies that employ and pay these workers. In fact, fatal offshore drilling accidents can occur during what seems like a normal day on the job. The fatality rate for oil and gas extraction workers is seven times higher than that of all other American workers, on average 16 offshore fatalities per year. The dangers of working offshore as a career can be deadly, often because companies fail to take the necessary precautions to safeguard their employees’ well-being.

Perhaps the most well-known of all fatal offshore drilling accidents is the Deepwater Horizon explosion, which led to 11 deaths. The infamous event is named after the drilling rig that oil and gas company BP leased to drill Macondo Prospect, an oil and gas prospect off the coast of Louisiana in the Gulf of Mexico. The oil rig accident occurred when a geyser of seawater erupted onto the rig followed by an eruption of drilling mud, methane gas, and seawater. The methane gas ignited into what was ultimately a fireball visible from 40 miles away. The Gulf Coast region also suffered the long-term effects of a major oil spill because of this offshore accident.

What Causes Fatal Offshore Drilling Accidents?

Most fatal accidents in the offshore drilling industry are transportation-related; other leading causes include contact with objects, fires, explosions, and exposure to harmful substances. The location of the offshore drilling work also matters as all but one fatal offshore drilling accident took place in the Gulf of Mexico across a 10-year period. Some studies even found that the federal government isn’t accurately tracking all offshore worker fatalities to make things appear safer than they really are.

The most common causes of fatal offshore drilling accidents include:

  • Transportation incidents – Many seamen are injured while being transported out to the oil rig, whether by helicopter or smaller vessel. Transportation accidents are the most prevalent cause of fatal offshore drilling accidents. They are frequently due to mechanical failures and inclement weather that cause helicopter crashes. Moreover, despite the fact that two-thirds (66%) of helicopter transport landings occurred in water, aircraft floatation devices on the helicopters either failed to deploy or malfunctioned in 20% of nonfatal accidents, leading to drowning.
  • Objects and equipment accidents – Poorly maintained equipment can malfunction and cause serious injuries or even kill an offshore worker. Also, defective safety equipment – like the blowout preventer in the Deepwater Horizon incident – that’s designed to prevent explosions and other dangers can lead to tragic consequences. Malfunctioning equipment begets a lack of seaworthiness and has been a major reason for some of the largest and most serious drilling rig disasters.
  • Explosions and fires – Inadequate maintenance, unsafe drilling practices, and many other factors can lead to an offshore oil rig explosion or fire. These catastrophic events cause burns and even often death.
  • Toxic exposure – Whether continuous exposure without the proper protective equipment or shorter exposure but in a confined space, it is common for those working on offshore drilling rigs to be exposed to toxic chemicals and other products. If not handled safely, they can suffer serious respiratory damage, burns, and even be killed.
  • Slips and falls – Outdoor surfaces that get slick from oil and/or water can lead to slips, trips, and falls.
  • Inadequate training and/or safety procedures – Whether it’s a communication error that leads to a lack of knowledge necessary to prevent danger or the failure to train new employees on the equipment they will be using, the lack of proper training and/or safety protocols can cause serious maritime accidents.
  • Severe weather conditions – Extreme weather conditions such as hurricanes and other storms can lead to explosions as well as the flooding, capsizing, and sinking of drilling rigs in open water.

Recommended Safety Precautions to Protect Offshore Workers

The CDC recommends the offshore drilling industry abide by the most stringent safety guidelines, such as those issued by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers (OGP). These guidelines exceed the Federal Aviation Authority’s safety regulations. For example, the OGP recommends helicopter underwater escape training for oil and gas industry employees, automatically inflating floatation gear fitted to helicopters, and personal beacons affixed to pilots, passengers, and life rafts so that they can be located in the water in the event of a crash landing.

What Maritime Laws May Apply to An Offshore Death?

Many different factors can influence which maritime laws apply to each injury or death scenario, but the most common laws that might apply to your case include but are not limited to:

  • Texas Water Safety Act
  • Texas Workers’ Compensation Act
  • Jones Act
  • Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act
  • Death on the High Seas Act
  • Outer Continental Shelf Lands Act
  • Texas state wrongful death laws

Offshore Drilling Accident Lawyers

The Krist Law Firm, P.C. understands that some jobs may be more dangerous than others, but this is why employers should make every effort to ensure a workplace is as safe as possible. This includes compliance with strict safety guidelines designed to protect employees on the job. If either you have been hurt or a loved one has been wrongfully killed because an offshore drilling employer failed to safeguard you, our offshore injury lawyers can help. Our law firm has successfully handled high-stakes maritime injury litigation and offshore death cases since its inception. Put our experience and winning track record to work for you and your family so we can help you recover what you need and what you deserve to move forward after a tragic job-related event. Contact us today.