Common Causes of Oil Rig Explosions – Fires
Oil rig fires can start easily with just a small spark. Once they have begun, they are usually extremely difficult to extinguish because they have an almost endless supply of fuel. Fires can cause explosions in some areas of the operation. A fire on an offshore rig is one of the most dangerous things that can happen. It can quickly get out of control, endangering the lives of many workers. Care must be taken to avoid starting a fire, and emergency procedures need to be followed should one occur.
Sources of Ignition
Well, sites have a number of sources of ignition. These are points at which a fire is possible if a spark is present. Hazards of potential ignition may occur from:
- Open flames
- Welding and other hot work
- Use of power tools
- Static electricity buildup in plastic pipes
- Two-way radios
- Vehicles with catalytic converters
Extreme caution needs to be used with these items while on an oil rig because of the potential to create a spark. Spark arrestors might be used on combustible engines and any item with that could set off a spark must not be utilized near the rig.
There are several methods that may be employed to extinguish an oil rig fire. If it is at the wellhead, explosives are sometimes used to push oxygen away to stop the burning. Other methods include using large amounts of water to douse the fire, injecting water at the base of the fire, using dry chemicals, capping the flames and drilling relief wells to remove some of the fuel. Once the fire is extinguished, the well must be capped to stop the flow of crude oil.
Capping the well is often a difficult and dangerous procedure, especially because there is likely a large buildup of gases. One small spark could cause not only re-ignition but also may explode. Those working near this operation are in extreme danger at this time. The process can be very difficult, and various methods may need to be used.
When a fire or explosion erupts on a rig, there are often many injuries and some fatalities. Those working closest to the fire may suffer significant burns. Burns of this type are extremely serious and require immediate life-saving measures. The victims must be evacuated to a hospital on shore as quickly as possible for treatment.
Other injuries could include smoke inhalation, inhalation of toxic substances and eye irritation. These workers all require medical care. If victims are not able to be quickly treated their injuries could worsen. Fires on oil rigs may result in the loss of many barrels of oil every day and pose environmental problems. In addition to the loss of revenue, there may also be a loss of lives. The rig will likely be seriously damaged if not a total loss.
Prevention of an oil rig fire is of utmost importance. Companies must utilize procedures that are known to deter and prevent fires from occurring. One of the most important parts of fire deterrent is employee training. Workers need to learn exactly how fires can start and what they must do to remain safe. The reckless actions of one employee could cause a serious and fatal fire.
Companies are required to follow specific safety procedures to prevent fires. They must also develop plans to fight fires including evacuation plans for employees. There is a duty to ensure the safety of workers on an oil rig. In addition to training, employees must be properly supervised. Employees should work in teams. Equipment and machinery need to be inspected and maintained. If a problem exists, employees should not proceed with a task until it is safe to do so.
Additionally, companies must be equipped to provide medical care including evaluation and immediate emergency treatment. Since rigs may be located miles offshore, there must be a system for transporting accident victims to a trauma center located on land. If a company fails in any of these areas they could be negligent. The Jones Act provides protection to maritime employees who were seriously injured in accidents that were due to the negligent actions of an employer.