Oil Rig Accident Injuries – Drownings

Workers on an oil rig face the risk of drowning, even though their duties often take place high above the sea. Elevated platforms, workspaces, and walkways have various hazards that can cause someone to fall. If the proper safety structures aren’t in place, or they fail, an individual can fall right off the rig and into the ocean. A Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report analyzing accidents and fatalities in the oil and gas extraction industry from 2003 through 2010 found that most incidents occurred during transport and while moving materials. That includes various sorts of injuries, but a number of factors can lead to drownings while working on an oil rig.

High-Risk Activities

Workers have fallen into the sea just by doing routine maintenance, as was the case on the BP Unity in the North Sea. A September 2014 report by Daily Mail revealed an employee died after falling into the sea. The report also noted that the incident came six months after another oil worker was killed by falling off a platform in the region.

In its report, the CDC also noted that three-quarters of the transportation incidents involving rigs were associated with helicopters. The 17 events involving these aircraft resulted in 43 fatalities, nine of which were due to drowning. Loss of power to the aircraft and bad weather were factors in many of the crashes. However, one can see how people can survive a crash and end up in the water and drowning. A Canadian study found that this was the primary cause of fatalities when the aircraft crashed in the water. As a result, the Federal Aviation Administration has worked with operators of oil/gas industry aircraft, particularly in the Gulf of Mexico, to implement a satellite broadcasting technology to improve communication and safety.

Between late 2009 (when the system was implemented) and the end of 2012, as reported by the CDC, no weather-related fatal helicopter accidents occurred near oil or gas rigs.

Other Causes of Drowning on Oil Rigs

Aside from activities on the rig itself, workers have drowned escaping. In 2007, a drilling rig was knocked over by waves. The subsequent oil and gas leaks led workers to evacuate in life rafts; 60 of them were rescued, but four were missing. Most drowned when a lifeboat broke up, although many others survived in the water until rescued.

A similar incident occurred in 1980 with a semi-submersible oil platform in the North Sea. The Alexander L. Kielland accident killed 123 people, most of whom drowned in the deep water. In February 1982, the Ocean Ranger oil drilling rig capsized in a strong storm, killing 84 people. All of those who perished in the accident drowned.

Death from Suffocation

A person drowns when they inhale water and suffer from a lack of oxygen. The process can take just seconds, in the case of young children, but adults can be under water for several minutes and possibly be revived. Near-drowning is when body systems start to shut down because there isn’t enough oxygen; if one is rescued at this stage, they may survive but need significant medical treatment. Rescuers also need to consider potential injuries the worker suffered before falling into the water, and the possible circumstances that caused the accident on the rig in the first place. A person can drown in just a few inches of water, so any length of time in the ocean can possibly lead to death.

The Jones Act and Drowning

Survivors of oil rig accidents can receive compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and even pain and suffering, but the Jones Act also covers a seaman’s widow, or dependent’s for loss of support. Legal action must be brought within the designated statute of limitations, which is three years from the date of the accident, for any damages to possibly be awarded. Individuals are covered for work-related injuries, and when negligence is a factor. In the case of drowning, this can be if the person in charge did not maintain or oversee the maintenance of equipment or surfaces that led to the conditions causing the accident. A failure to rescue, provide medical treatment, or supervise can hold them liable for negligence as well.

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