According to a study of offshore fatalities by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the chance of being killed while working in the oil and gas extraction industry is seven times higher than for all workers in the United States. We’ve put together a quick guide to offshore accidents and what you should do if you are injured in one.
What Is an Offshore Accident?
The term “offshore” generally means the injured worker was working on navigable water. It is also a term generally used to refer to the extraction of oil and gas from reservoirs found beneath the seafloor by oil and gas companies. These operations require laborers to work offshore on various types of rigs, barges, and platforms.
The perils of being at sea, severe weather conditions, the nature of working with oil and gas, and the size of offshore drilling vessels contribute to the frequency of offshore incidents, making offshore work incredibly risky. The kind of physical work required of maritime workers also creates hazards that can result in injury or death. Common types of injuries involved in offshore accidents include:
- Head trauma
- Twisted joints
- Sprained joints
- Back injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Neck injuries
- Bruised, broken, or fractured bones
- Traumatic brain injuries
Offshore Drilling Accidents
The number of offshore injuries was on a downward trajectory between 2015 and 2017. However, according to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, the number of injuries on offshore rigs grew by 21 percent in 2018 and 2019. This injury rate is calculated by using the number of injuries per 200,000 hours worked on offshore facilities on the Outer Continental Shelf. Working hours that are counted include both operator and contractor hours for production, construction, and drilling operations.
Offshore Oil Rig Accidents
Two of the biggest dangers faced by offshore oil rig workers are fires and explosions. Fires and explosions occur for a variety of reasons, such as:
- Employer negligence
- Insufficient employee training
- Mechanical failures
- Poor equipment maintenance
The majority of offshore fires and explosions that occurred in the past 30 years could have been avoided through improved maintenance procedures, better safety measures, and more effective employee training and communication. Negligence is considered the primary reason for most offshore oil rig accidents.
Offshore Helicopter Accidents
A seven-year Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study of fatal injuries in offshore oil and gas operations concluded that 65 of the 128 deaths that occurred (51%) were attributed to transportation accidents in the Gulf of Mexico. Out of the 65 transportation accident death, 49 (75%) involved a helicopter crash.
Similarly, HeliOffshore’s most recent Helicopter Safety Performance report showed that between 2014 and 2018, helicopters that were transporting oil and gas industry passengers were involved in 47 accidents, nearly half of which were fatal. The helicopter accidents reported resulted in 120 deaths, making the estimated 5-year fatal accident rate for the offshore industry 3.8 fatal crashes per million flight hours.
Offshore Supply Vessel Accidents
Offshore supply vessels are cargo ships that are specially designed to transport goods, supplies, or equipment to offshore rigs. The supply boats can be several hundred feet in length and are supported by a variety of crew members responsible for various tasks.
As with offshore platforms, offshore supply vessels present a variety of dangers to their workers. Risk factors for maritime injuries on supply vessels include:
- Severe weather
- Slippery conditions
- Defective supplies
- Equipment malfunctions
- Mechanical failure
- Insufficient safety training
- Long hours
What Should I Do if I’m the Victim in an Offshore Accident?
If you’re injured in an offshore accident, there are steps you can take to protect both your health and your ability to receive compensation for your injury.
Step One — Seek Medical Treatment
Your health and safety are always the most important thing. Before doing anything else, you should get to a safe location. Immediately after an accident, check yourself for injuries and, if you are not too injured to do so, look for fellow workers who may also be injured.
Even if you do not think you are seriously injured, you should see a doctor as soon as you can. Sometimes shock can mask the pain from your injuries, or you could have internal injuries that are not immediately noticeable. For this reason, it’s essential that you get checked out by a medical professional as soon as possible.
When you see a doctor, make sure that any injuries are sufficiently documented, as your medical records can be used as evidence in a future personal injury case to secure compensation for the accident.
Step Two — Contact the Authorities
As soon as possible, you should either call the authorities yourself or ask someone else to contact them if you are receiving medical treatment. The relevant authorities will be able to create official documentation of the scene, including accident reports and witness statements. These documents can also serve as evidence if you file a lawsuit.
Step Three — Document the Scene
If you are not too injured to do so, you should document the scene of the accident yourself. After the incident, take photos and videos of the aftermath, making sure to capture the scene from all angles and from close-up and far away. You should also record names, addresses, and contact information for any witnesses to the accident.
You should also gather the following information about where your accident occurred, if you do not already have it:
- Well name
- Well operator
- Type of offshore vessel
- Name of the vessel owner
Step Four — Talk to a Lawyer
It’s essential that you speak to an experienced personal injury attorney regarding representation immediately after the accident. You should look for an attorney that has experience with offshore accidents. Many attorneys will offer a free consultation to discuss your case.
Additionally, you should not speak with any insurance adjusters, even your own. It’s an insurance adjuster’s job to help the insurance company pay as little money as possible for each claim. Every time the insurance company contacts you, they are trying to collect information that they can use against you. Insurance companies are notorious for taking advantage of people who are unrepresented, so it’s crucial that you have an experienced offshore accident attorney on your side.
Should I Sue Someone if I’m in an Offshore Accident?
Workers who are involved in offshore accidents can be eligible to recover damages under General Maritime Law and the federal Jones Act. The Jones Act allows workers to pursue personal injury lawsuits against their employers for injuries caused by either the unseaworthiness of a vessel or negligence by vessel owners, captains, or crew members.
Although the Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act can provide workers’ compensation benefits to injured workers, available compensation is limited to medical expenses and disability benefits. In many cases, in order to receive additional compensation, you will need to file a lawsuit.
Do I Have To Go To Court?
The vast majority of legal cases are settled before they reach trial. Settlement agreements are negotiated by attorneys for both parties, and allow the injured party to guarantee some level of compensation. However, some cases do go to trial, in which case you will likely need to appear in court.
Do I Need an Offshore Accident Attorney Near Me?
Offshore accident attorneys specialize in cases involving maritime law. Maritime law is extremely complicated and nuanced. It is also different from other types of disability law, including standard worker’s compensation, because it only applies to offshore workers.
Most attorneys are not familiar with the complexities of maritime law. If you wish to pursue compensation for an offshore injury, you should make sure you choose an attorney with knowledge of maritime laws and experience representing clients in cases like yours.
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