Why workers have become less safe aboard offshore platforms

On Behalf of | Mar 4, 2020 | Maritime Law |

If you work on an offshore platform, you know your job is dangerous. But do you know if it’s becoming less or more dangerous?

According to a recent report, offshore injuries have started to rise for the first time in years. Government officials and business owners have reversed many of the safety policies that they developed after the 2010 Deepwater Horizon tragedy. These policy changes appear connected to the increased injuries. And they may put you at risk.

A little background

In 2010, the Deepwater Horizon rig erupted into flame and released millions of barrels of crude into the Gulf of Mexico. As Vox reported, the incident claimed the lives of 11 workers and led to the largest spill in history. There were roughly $17.2 billion in damages.

What caused this tragedy? Among other things:

  • A faulty blowout preventer
  • Workers under pressure to work faster than they could safely perform their jobs
  • An employer that had racked up hundreds of safety violations
  • A failure to interpret critical data
  • Lax regulations

After the Deepwater disaster, the government studied the situation. It developed new policies to prevent similar failures. But those policies have been rolled back in the past few years.

Doomed to repeat history?

Since 2017, the government has rolled back many of the policies meant to prevent future disasters. The result has been:

  • Owners and employers need to follow fewer safety regulations
  • They face fewer inspections
  • The number of disciplinary actions for noncompliance has dropped
  • Oil companies have received 1,700 waivers to avoid or delay their compliance with blowout preventer regulations

This last point is particularly noteworthy since it was the blowout preventer at fault for the Deepwater spill.

Fewer regulations means more injuries

While some government officials claim the changes have led to more inspections and higher safety standards, the facts don’t support their claims. And, as the report’s authors note, it’s difficult to believe that a sudden drop in government oversight is going to spur oil and gas companies toward “voluntary compliance with safety guidelines.”

Instead, the numbers suggest offshore platforms are less safe now that the rules have been relaxed:

  • Workers have suffered 21% more serious injuries
  • Oil platforms have spilled 595% more crude oil
  • According to the New Orleans Advocate, 2019 saw the deaths of more offshore workers than in the previous five years combined

Employers owe their workers a safe workplace. If the government isn’t holding the oil and gas companies accountable, that responsibility may fall to the injured workers and their families.

Recourse for the victims

Offshore injuries take place far from the hustle and bustle of most people’s daily lives. But they’re painfully close to the friends and families of those who get injured. It may sometimes be hard to see how things are connected, but once you understand how employers put their employees’ lives at risk, you can fight for justice.