Decreasing Numbers of Oil Rigs May Leave Workers More Prone to Injury

The last few months have been tough on the oil and gas industry. As oil flooded the market from overseas, the number of rigs dropped across the U.S. In 2019, Oklahoma had 109 active oil and gas rigs; as of March 2020, we now have 43.

These types of declines wreak havoc on the industry in a lot of ways. With so many workers out of a job, companies may feel it’s time to renegotiate salaries, or demand more from their workers – after all, there are plenty of people looking to pick up the slack.

These issues have been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic, too; offshore rigs saw the biggest hit, since their workers were confined to the platforms, leaving fewer people to do some of the most dangerous oil and gas work there is. While Oklahoma oil rig workers may not have to worry about quarantining with their coworkers for weeks at a time, they are not without risk.

Worker fatigue, long hours, and an increased risk of danger

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH), using data from 2017, found that while other industries had extensively studied the role of fatigue in worker injuries in, there wasn’t that much information for oil and gas extraction (OGE): “While fatigue has been shown to be a significant health and safety risk in other industries, minimal research on worker fatigue has been conducted in this workforce. Regulations intended to manage fatigue among OGE workers are limited to hours-of-service (HOS) regulations, which apply only to drivers of large trucks.”

NIOSH also looked at the number of hours worked. Per their calculations, “The average U.S. worker works 34.5 hours per week, but oil and gas operator employees work 41-43.9 hours per week on average and workers engaged in drilling and oil and gas support activities work 45.8-49.5 hour.”

finally, NIOSH pointed out the heavy competition between contractors looking to get picked up on rigs, saying “Contractors may support multiple operators at the same time, resulting in the potential for competing work demands, long work hours, and insufficient rest time.”

Three years later, and nothing has changed except there are far fewer rigs, far greater numbers of unemployed OGE workers, and a pandemic that appears to be spiking in the state. (Thankfully, the number of deaths caused by the virus is still incredibly low in Oklahoma, as of this writing.)

If fatigue and long hours were a problem in 2017, when Oklahoma had plenty of rigs, it is safe to assume that today – with the same hours, fewer rigs, and sick workers – those risks may be worse. Should more rigs open back up, owners and supervisors may also have to contend with workers who have the experience, but are a bit out of practice. This, too, could increase the risk of injury to workers.

What are the most common causes of fatalities for OGE workers?

Traumatic injuries, such as brain injuries, electrocution, burns, and crushing injuries, still lead when it comes to oil field fatalities. Other common causes of fatalities include:

  • Drug and alcohol overdose
  • Suicides
  • Acts of violence
  • Work-related chronic illnesses
  • Transportation accidents, like truck accidents
  • Cardiac events

The numbers collected by NIOSH only reflect fatal accidents. They don’t include things like crushed hands or finger loss, hearing damage, vision damage, broken bones, traumatic brain injuries, spinal cord injuries, or any of the other catastrophic injuries that oil field workers can suffer.

If you get hurt in the patch, Cunningham & Mears wants to help. Our Oklahoma City oil field injury attorneys fight for oil and gas workers. To learn more about our services, contact us or call 405-232-1212 today for a free initial consultation.