Common Causes of Explosions – Negligence
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), the on-the-job fatality rate for oil and gas extraction workers (from 2003 to 2010) was seven times higher than the rate for all other industries in the U.S. Although there are many factors contributing to the statistics, explosions are one cause for concern. Fire, blowout, or equipment failure can trigger a devastating chain of events. However, negligence can play a role as well.
Negligence can be a factor when the proper precautions aren’t taken when potential hazards are known. These include flammable gases and vapors. By monitoring for them and taking special care in areas they’re known to exist, workers can avoid certain activities such as welding, using electric power tools, or smoking. An open flame or even a two-way radio can be the source of an explosion if gases or vapors are in the air. Portable generators are causes for concern as well.
How a Superior’s or Coworker’s Negligence Can Cause Trouble
Not implementing the proper solutions is a sign of a negligent action. Under the Jones Act, injured or ill workers who can prove they were harmed by another’s negligence can receive compensation, maintenance and cure, and other benefits such as medical expenses and lost wages. Explosions can be caused by not taking precautions that could have stopped them from occurring.
Something as simple as posting a no smoking sign in a hazardous area can lead to liability. Crew members should also identify where equipment that can produce sparks is located, and ensure it is placed away from locations exposed to dangerous gases and vapors. They should also make sure open flames aren’t permitted in these areas. If internal combustion engines are used, spark arrestors should be used, and any vehicle or equipment with a catalytic converter should be prohibited from use on or near the rig.
Hot Work and Explosions
Signs of negligence related to welding, cutting, soldering, and grinding operations include:
- Absence of guards to confine sparks and heat from fire hazards.
- Permitting hot work to be done in a hazardous area.
- The unavailability of equipment such as fire extinguishers, water pails, sand buckets, and hoses.
- No fire watch personnel on guard during welding or cutting work.
Those assigned to fire watch must have the equipment and training to deal with a problem before it leads to an explosion. They should know how to sound an alarm and attempt to extinguish a fire only based on the capacity of the available equipment. Fires can smolder after hot work, so such personnel should be on guard for at least a half hour following the completion of any related tasks.
Other Signs of Negligence
- Improperly placed or secured gas cylinders, which can fall or roll if not kept upright or chained in racks.
- Lack of protective equipment such as face shields.
- Not inspecting grinding and other pieces of equipment before use.
- Failing or refusing to make repairs to a complex drilling part or even a floor panel.
- Training not provided to employees when a vessel owner or manager has access to the resources.
- Not breaking employee’s work time into shifts and not providing them with adequate breaks.
Causes of the Deepwater Horizons Explosion
On April 20, 2010, a BP-owned oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico exploded. One of the largest oil leaks in history resulted, but the causes reflect how negligence and safety system failures can lead to trouble. Evidence of this is in how a leak was not found soon enough and that a pressure test was misinterpreted, so the crew couldn’t tell whether the well was properly sealed or not.
Also, there was no functional alarm that could tell when the gas detection system would alert the crew and close the ventilation fans. Explosive gases, therefore, reached ignition sources such as engines aboard the rig without anything to block them. Also, the cement intended to seal the borehole was not of the quality needed to prevent oil and gas from leaking. A variety of other factors led to the failure of the blowout preventer, including the explosion itself, and the subsequent leakage of oil into the Gulf of Mexico. A few of the common causes of explosions are exemplified here, but negligence is a major factor in avoiding the conditions that make flammability a likelihood aboard a rig.