The Risk Management Tool Box Blog

Offshore Oilwork Work Seven Times More Dangerous

Graham Marshall - Sunday, May 19, 2013
The chance of getting killed while working in the offshore oil and gas industry is seven times higher than for all workers in the United States, according to a new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of offshore fatal injuries between 2003 and 2010. 

It’s getting to work that is the most dangerous part of an offshore worker’s job, the study concluded: 65 of the 128 deaths during the seven-year period studied, or 51 percent, were attributed to transportation accidents.

And 49 of those involved helicopter accidents, all in the Gulf of Mexico. 

Transportation events (specifically helicopter crashes) were the most frequent fatal event in this industry.

The study also points out that since the adoption of new technology in late 2009 that uses satellites to send weather and other emergency information to air traffic controllers and aircraft, no fatal weather-related helicopter crashes have occurred in connection with oil and gas operations. 

The Automatic Dependent Surveillance-Broadcast technology supplants the reliance of pilots and air traffic controllers on radar, which does not pick up low-flying aircraft, and traditional radio communications equipment, which have limited capabilities and are not effective in warning pilots of rapidly changing weather conditions.

The report also recommended that the oil and gas industry adopt aircraft operation guidelines developed by the International Association of Oil and Gas Producers that have more stringent safety requirements than Federal Aviation Administration rules.

Those guidelines recommend that pilots and passengers complete helicopter underwater escape training and wear life jackets during all flights over water. 

They also recommend that flotation gear be installed on helicopters that will automatically inflate when the vehicle hits water, and that such flotation gear must be capable of keeping the helicopter on the water’s surface. 

The guidelines also recommend that companies provide locator beams for pilots, passengers and life rafts, and that the rafts be mounted on the outside of the helicopters. 

The study said that the 128 fatalities in the study period represents an average 16 deaths per year, and estimated that the fatality rate was seven times higher than for all U.S. workers, 27.1 deaths per 100,000 offshore workers versus 3.8 deaths per 100,000 workers nationwide. 

Workers directly employed in the oil and gas extraction industry accounted for 87, or two-thirds, of the deaths. 

Of those workers, 43 worked for well-servicing companies, 26 for drilling contractors, and 18 for oil and gas operators. 

The remainder of the deaths involved employees in another industry, including 24 in transportation and warehousing, 10 in construction, and eight in other industries. 

The researchers obtained their fatality data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Census of Fatal Occupational Industries. 

An earlier report found that mechanical failures and bad weather were the most common reasons for helicopter crashes involving offshore operations in the Gulf between 1983 and 2009. 

That study found that aircraft flotation devices either failed to deploy or malfunctioned in 20 percent of nonfatal crashes. 

A separate study of Canadian civilian helicopter crashes into water found that drowning was the primary cause of death, and that use of life jackets by pilots and passengers was inconsistent.
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