An economic downturn hurts everyone in different ways. Some people must simply cope with thinner stock portfolios. Others lose their jobs. Still others may face harm more indirectly.

This may soon be the case for those offshore workers who tap the ocean floor for valuable crude. According to The Economic Times, offshore drillers have suffered in the current global market. Four of the largest seven drillers have taken steps to protect themselves from their creditors. And those dwindling profits may very well impact the workers on their offshore rigs.

Offshore drillers need to maintain a safe workspace

The Economic Times speculates that reduced profits will spur offshore drillers to shrink their efforts or abandon them altogether. They note that Valaris has already planned to scrap 11 rigs and close another nine for as long as two years. Other companies are looking for other ways to survive the downturn.

When companies start looking for ways to cut their costs and increase their profits, they almost inevitably look for ways to spend less on their workers. This often means layoffs, wage reductions and the like. But it may also mean increased automation and fewer employees working on a rig at any given time.

If this is the direction some companies take, the chances are good it could lead to dangerous levels of fatigue. If workers are called on to work longer shifts or have less support, it’s easy to imagine that deadly mistakes could follow. Especially as the government has stepped away from many of the safety measures it put in place after the 2010 Deepwater explosion.

A recent study from Texas A&M focused on the effects of fatigue in the oil and gas industry. Its researchers were trying to test a wearable device, but they also noted several startling facts:

  • Sleepy and fatigued workers were 70% more likely to make mistakes leading to injury
  • Leading up to a 2005 incident, some operators had worked 12-hour shifts for as many as 29 straight days
  • Offshore companies often ask workers to self-regulate, even while holding them accountable for meeting demanding production quotas

It’s common for struggling employers to ask their employees to do more. Every business wants to survive. Every manager wants to increase profitability. But it’s important to remember that staffing decisions can improve or decrease workplace safety. It’s important to remember that on an offshore rig, fatigue isn’t just inefficient; it’s dangerous.

What can workers do?

Though it may sometimes feel as though offshore rigs exist in a world of their own, they are still subject to the law. Their owners and operators need to maintain safe workspaces, and workers who grow concerned about possible violations have the right to report them.

Ideally, such reporting will lead to improved safety before the injuries follow. But that’s not always the case, and some workers may need to seek compensation for their injuries. Since workers at sea don’t receive workers’ compensation, they’ll need to file their claims under maritime law.