Offshore Accidents

Offshore drilling and mining provides the United States with amazing natural resources, but it can be a dangerous pursuit. The most common types of off-shore accidents, in order of prevalence, are fires, collisions, explosions, and loss of well control. An offshore fire is considered to be catastrophic if it results in the destruction of a facility worth more than $10 million. In most years there are no catastrophic fires. Unfortunately, however, most years will see at least one major fire (in which property damage is greater than $1 million) and several minor fires (in which property damage is between $25,000 and $1 million). Fires are typically caused by equipment malfunction, and should be dealt with immediately to minimize danger to workers. Collisions occur when a vessel or other object strikes the platform of an offshore facility. Human error is the primary cause of these accidents, which are far more likely to occur at night. Most collisions do not result in serious injury or significant damage to the facility. Explosions, on the other hand, have the potential to cause serious damage because of the large amounts of volatile chemicals aboard offshore facilities. Explosions may be the result either of human error or equipment failure. Finally, loss of well control occurs either when there is an uncontrolled flow of well fluids, or when well fluids begin to flow through a structure meant to divert them. Equipment failure is the most common cause of a loss of well control, which can result in expensive damage to the offshore facility.

Offshore Injuries

Every year approximately fifty offshore workers will suffer significant injuries and approximately ten will lose their lives. The confined nature of an off-shore rig, combined with the presence of heavy machinery and often limited lines of sight, make offshore rigs potentially dangerous places to work. The United States Department of the Interior works diligently to minimize the risks of offshore injury. The division of the Department of Interior that focuses on offshore facilities, known as the Mineral Management Service, requires employers to report all injuries and fatalities. These reports are then compiled into a database, where they can be studied for any recurring details. The causes of injury are typically equipment failure, human error, or a combination of the two. The Mineral Management Service also publishes summaries of all the incident reports so that employers and employees alike can stay abreast of potential dangers to safety while offshore. In addition, national safety alerts are released any time a potential safety hazard comes to the attention of the federal government. The Mineral Management Service is currently focused on making sure that older offshore facilities are maintained in such a way that they remain safe for workers. Another kind of injury that is often ignored is illness caused by long-term exposure to toxic chemicals. It may take years for the symptoms of toxic exposure to manifest, so the specific causes may be unclear. For that reason, offshore companies are required to perform frequent and thorough checks to make sure that dangerous or toxic chemicals are not present in an offshore facility.

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