Oil fields are a dangerous place to work. Rig hands not only have to deal with dangerous equipment, hazardous materials, and physically demanding work, but also the natural and often time savage weather that they have to work in. Oklahoma suffers not only from severe heat in the summer, but also freezing cold weather in the winter.
Cold weather is nothing to underestimate. “A report by the National Center for Health Statistics reveals that winter cold kills more Americans than summer heat. Each year, approximately 2,000 people die due to weather-related causes. Of that population, 63% of deaths are caused by exposure to cold and/or hypothermia, while only 31% are attributed to heat-related exposure such as heat or sun stroke.”
Winter weather can lead to all kinds of oil field injuries from such incidents as slip and fall injuries like broken bones or spinal cord fractures, to exposure injuries such as frostbite and limb amputation. There are certain ways in which employers can protect their employees from these harsh weather conditions, and ways in which rig hands should protect themselves.
Hazards of the Oklahoma cold in the patch
When it comes to cold weather, there are plenty of things to worry about. The temperature obviously, but also the snow, ice, and wind. Oklahoma is susceptible to icy winters, which makes working outside on an oil rig even more dangerous than it already is. Black ice is easy to miss, and even easier to slip on. Slipping while working on an oil rig can lead to disastrous falls, culminating in brain and head trauma, spinal injury (including fractures or even paralysis), neck trauma, and broken bones.
With temperatures dipping down past the freezing mark, and high winds to make it even colder, leaving one’s skin bare to these nasty conditions can lead to a whole host of injuries. Not only can it cause damage to the worker directly, but it can also cause machinery to malfunction if they are not insulated properly. Malfunctioning equipment can lead to injuries to the worker.
Types of injuries unique to the cold the cold
The injuries you can receive from cold weather on an oil platform are many and can be life threatening. From injuries due to slip and fall accidents, to injuries from exposure to the cold, to injuries from negligence, these are disasters waiting to happen. Some of the common injuries sustained in cold weather on oil platforms include:
- Hypothermia: Hypothermia is when the cold temperatures around you cause your internal body temperature to drop below 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Often, we think of hypothermia occurring when it is below freezing, but it can happen even at temperatures of 40 degrees Fahrenheit if a worker becomes damp or wet.
- Frostbite: Frostbite occurs when your skin and surface level tissues become frozen. It can cause permanent damage to your body, even leading to amputation. Frostbite often occurs when one’s skin is exposed to the freezing elements of the weather.
- Trench foot: Trench foot is caused by prolonged exposure to cold, wet conditions. Per the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC), trench foot is the result of the body “constrict[ing] blood vessels to shut down circulation in the feet. Skin tissue begins to die because of lack of oxygen and nutrients and due to the buildup of toxic products.”
All of these injuries are the result of cold stress, which occurs when the body loses heat, thus driving down a person’s internal temperature. Each condition can lead to permanent tissue damage, including tissue death.
How to reduce risk of winter injuries in an oil field
If you work on an oil platform, then your employer should be offering some forms of protection from the harsh environments of the cold. Insulating your workspace is one of the most important things they should do. Rig hands spend long hours on an oil platform, and if there is no space available to them to get ut of the cold, then they are more likely to suffer from cold related injuries. Insulation also helps to protect machinery and equipment from deteriorating in the cold weather as well, which helps to keep the workplace safe.
Your employer should also be making sure that all the equipment, insulated or not, is being maintained and kept operating safely. That includes checking to make sure all the moving parts are doing so smoothly, and that fluids are kept at appropriate levels.
As for what the rig hands can do, there’s quite a lot. First of all, it’s important to wear appropriate clothing such as insulated winter hats, balaclava ski masks, gloves, jacket, warm socks, and boots that have anti-slip treads on the bottom. It’s important to keep your skin protected from the elements, and to avoid slipping on ice when possible. If you feel like you are too cold, then make sure you get somewhere insulated and heated to warm up for a while before going back out into the freezing temperatures. If you can, bring hot beverages to drink throughout the day to keep your internal temperature warm.
An oil platform is no easy place to work, and the dangers of working on one are well known. This doesn’t mean that an employee there should expect to be injured. Safety should be the first priority for the employers, and the rig hands should do what they can to avoid the injuries one can sustain from freezing temperatures. Don’t let the winter weather make your day a tragic one. At Cunningham & Mears, we are ready to represent you if negligence from your employer caused you to suffer an injury. We know exactly how dangerous these places are to work, and we know what measures your workplace should be taking to keep you from harm. To discuss your right to compensation, call our Oklahoma City oil field injury lawyers at (405) 232-1212, or fill out our contact form.
Ryan Y. Cunningham is a founding partner of Cunningham & Mears. Mr. Cunningham devotes his practice to protecting the rights of injured Oklahoma residents. In addition to assisting injured clients, Mr. Cunningham endeavors to improve personal injury representation by speaking on issues related to personal injury law to attorneys in continuing legal education courses and to law students. Learn More