Oil rigs are like small, isolated cities, towering above the ocean waves. They’re built for work and not for luxury. Workers work and live together in crowded, air-tight chambers—for weeks at a time—and that makes oil rigs perfect breeding grounds for all kinds of illness and disease.

An oil rig’s isolation is its first line of defense, but once disease finds its way on board, everyone’s at risk. So, how can all the roughnecks, roustabouts, mechanics, engineers, drillers, cooks and others aboard an oil rig protect themselves?

You need your employer to help

Every worker deserves a safe workplace, but “safe” means different things in different places. Oil rigs can be especially tricky. As one company that specializes in remote medical treatment recently remarked, people offshore have very few places to go when they find themselves exposed to illness. Medical staff may try to keep them away from the rest of the crew, but there aren’t many extra rooms on a rig.

Workers can take the same precautions aboard a rig that they’d take elsewhere. Wash their hands. Keep as much distance as possible. But the best route is to keep illness off the rig. In part, that means that workers shouldn’t head to the rig when they know they might put their colleagues at risk. But it also means that managers and employers should react appropriately:

  • Confirm the illness
  • Isolate any contagious workers
  • Treat the workers
  • Inform the rest of the crew
  • Clean exposed surfaces and materials
  • Document and report

When they respond appropriately, employers can help sick workers recover, prevent the illness from spreading aboard the rig and safeguard the crew who will arrive later.

Your rights as a worker

Your job is important to you, but so is your health. If you suspect your employer isn’t responding appropriately to injury or illness, you might be curious what your rights are. According to OSHA, you have the rights to:

  • A workplace that doesn’t threaten you with injury or illness
  • Proper safety training
  • Review the records of previous illnesses and injuries
  • File a complaint with OSHA about any unsafe work conditions
  • Exercise your rights without losing your job, hours or pay

Notably, those who work aboard oil rigs aren’t typically covered by workers’ compensation. Since oil rigs tend to operate outside state lines, workers usually need to file maritime claims to cover their lost wages and medical bills.

Work healthy

Offshore jobs are among the world’s most dangerous. When you work on an oil rig, you need to stay focused on safety. You shouldn’t also have to worry that your employer is exposing you to contagious diseases.

When your co-workers, managers and employer are all acting responsibly, oil rigs are as distant from disease as anywhere on the planet. After a long, hard, 12-hour shift, that’s the reassuring sort of promise you deserve.