Working on an offshore oil and gas platform is considered one of the most dangerous careers. Dangerous offshore jobs are included in almost every list of hazardous professions and for good reason.
The isolation, the extreme weather conditions, and the operating of heavy machinery for hours at a time can all take its toll, both physically and mentally.
Not to mention the highly combustible nature of the product that means a small leak can turn into a devastating explosion like Deepwater Horizon or Piper Alpha, and claim the lives of several workers in an instant.
It is no wonder that accidents, injuries and even fatalities have been frequently recorded on offshore platforms. Spinal injuries, brain injuries, severe burns, limb amputations, broken bones and toxic inhalations from chemicals are common injuries listed on various legal accident claims websites.
Here are five of the most dangerous offshore jobs within one of the most perilous professions in the world.
Dangerous offshore jobs: Maintenance and construction
The offshore maintenance and construction segment is where most accidents and injuries occur.
In the UK, there were 76 recorded injuries in this sector in 2014-2015, a steady increase on previous years, according to the UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE).
One of these proved to be fatal; in September 2014, a worker carrying out routine maintenance on the BP Unity rig fell to his death from a pumping station in the North Sea offshore Aberdeen, Scotland. There have been no fatalities since then, however, and the vast majority (68 incidents) have been considered minor, known as over-seven-days (O7D) injuries.
In 2017, there were two recorded falls from height that were considered O7D injuries, and no fatal or major falls from height incidents last year. This is an improvement from past years, when between 10 and 12 major and minor injuries have been recorded.
Dangerous offshore jobs: Deck operations
Working on deck operations can also prove to be risky business, with 39 incidents recorded for each of the years 2012-2013 and 2013-2014 respectively. The number of major incidents in this timeframe has fallen; in 2014-2015, the number fell sharply to just 16. Of these, only three were considered to be major incidents.
While the death count is not particularly high on offshore platforms, with the exception of massive disasters, US Occupational Safety and Health Administration assistant secretary David Michaels told Time Magazine that “there have been a number of incidents where no one has been killed or hurt, but where people could have been hurt quite seriously.” And this needs to be addressed by the relevant authorities.
Slips, trips and short falls were the cause of most injuries on UK offshore oil and gas platforms, with a high of 56 incidents in 2014. Only nine were major, and none proved to be fatal. By 2017, this number had fallen to 31.
Dangerous offshore jobs: Management and accommodation
Deaths related to management and accommodation rose from around 17 in the previous year to 26 in 2014-2015. While the HSE could not explain exactly how incidents typically arose in this sector. It is safe to assume accidents rose from situations such as poorly designed accommodation or a lack of correct hazard signposting. Three were classed as major over this period, down from six in 2013-2014. One fifth of all accidents recorded by the HSE have been linked to this sector, although the number of more serious injuries and accidents is lower than those recorded in other sectors.
In its latest report published last year, HSE said its “regulatory programme for the offshore industry seeks to ensure major hazard and personal risks are properly managed in compliance with legislative requirements.
“Where appropriate, HSE will take formal enforcement action to prevent harm and secure justice in line with its Enforcement Policy.”
Dangerous offshore jobs: Drilling and production
Possibly to be expected, drilling is an inherently one of the most dangerous offshore jobs due to the heavy machinery involved and the high speed of the equipment used. The main threat to drillers is oil and gas leaks, which generally cause the major explosions that, as in the case of Deepwater Horizon, are particularly lethal, and devastate the local marine environment.
During this disaster in 2010, 11 workers were killed and a further 17 were non-fatally injured. The Piper Alpha explosion of 1988 claimed the lives of 167 people, most of whom drowned after escaping the initial blasts.
Beyond major disasters, if workers simply have a momentary lapse in concentration, they could risk injury. In 2014-2015, 19 incidents were recorded offshore UK in the HSE report, and there is no evidence that current drilling safety measures are protecting drill operators.
However, accidents occurring due to contact with machinery are less prevalent, arguably due to the high levels of training that those in the drilling segment must undergo. There were two major incidents of this kind in 2017, and six O7D injuries.
Despite a spike in injuries in 2013-2014, in which 18 incidents were recorded, including eight majors, incidents related to production have been lower than in other sectors. There were only three incidents in this sector in 2012-2013, with a further three in 2014-2015.
Dangerous offshore jobs: Offshore diving
Offshore diving has the potential to be a very dangerous job, requiring specialised training and a high level of fitness. It is surprising, then, that the profession is at the bottom of the list. There’s no denying that the job poses certain risks, but in 2014-15, only four incidents were recorded in the UK, up from three in the previous two years. One of these was considered major by the HSE.
On one occasion in 2012, oil rig diver Chris Lemons was stranded 260ft below sea level when his air and heat supply was cut off for 40 minutes in the North Sea, offshore Scotland. After falling unconscious, another diver eventually brought Lemons to the surface and he was successfully resuscitated.
At the time, London Diving Chamber medical director Oliver Firth said it was staggering that Lemons survived, telling the Daily Mail: “The interesting thing here is that it happened in very cold water. It sounds like the diving reflex might have played a part in this.
“When very cold water touches our faces, the reflex is activated and it’s designed to protect our bodies by slowing the heart down and optimising respiration while under water.”