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The Main Challenges of Working on a Deep Sea Ocean Oil Rig

oil rig

The oceans and seas account for more than two-thirds of the size of the earth. It’s for this reason that oil and gas exploration has taken steps from the conventional rigs on land to the deep seas where vast reserves of the mineral exist. While most consider oil drilling on land a tedious activity, the exercise becomes technically demanding in offshore drilling. The kind of platforms required to access the reservoirs under the seabed is not only complicated but expensive and hence, an investment preserved for a few entities.

On the other hand, drilling rigs and oil production platforms in offshore rigging are arguably the most hazardous workstations in the world. The employees working in such stations must use supply ships and helicopters to get to the drilling areas and perhaps work for extended schedules to minimize movements and hence the costs.  With high waves and extreme weather conditions, they ought to have tools and gear that provides enough cushion against the worst of the environment. Some of the challenges facing workers at the offshore oil rigs include:

Complex working equipment

When it comes to offshore drilling, complex machinery and tools are used to drill such depths. As the production continues the depth of the reserve increases and hence the need for complex technology to handle the jobs. For instance, an equipment running from the surface for about 1800 feet is likely to have numerous areas of weakness. It makes such equipment vulnerable to earthquakes and intense waves leaving those handling them at higher risk. Also, limited control of these tools makes workers depend on the well being of the control systems.

Harsh weather conditions

It’s almost impossible to monitor the surrounding weather conditions when drilling oil rigs in the deep oceans. Severe weather conditions pose engineering challenges to the drilling equipment and the workers living in the mines. Ice, storms, and waves are common occurrences in the large water bodies. With the structures built to withstand the catastrophes, they do little to reduce functionality challenges caused by these elements. Often, the freezing temperatures at the seabed make it hard for divers to control the drilling equipment. Most of the installation and oversight is done remotely using the remotely operated vehicles.

Limited access to safety points

By all standards, offshore drilling remains the most dangerous professions in America. Most of the risks are inherent to the kind of environment that activities happen. From highly combustible elements to swinging cranes, one cannot wish away the possibility of accidents and explosions that have occurred in several rigs. With the rigs located several hundreds of miles away from the coastlines, it becomes hard to escape severe explosions when they happen or secure additional help to deal with emergency issues.

It leaves the teams with limited capacity to contain fires, spills, and accidents which are likely to overwhelm the standing facilities at the rig. If something wrong occurs, the coast guard responds to the scene, though with minimal help to the crew. The drilling staff uses the watertight pods that hold up to 10 people as they wait for evacuation. Prolonged evacuation means more damage to the drilling equipment and worst of all, increased risk of injuries and fatalities.

Inexperienced oil companies

The oil industry is one that faces an increasing demand owing to the growth in the manufacturing and motor industries. By 2035, the global demand for oil and gas is estimated to rise by more 30%, causing a strain on the current oil wells. It explains why most exporters have turned to offshore drilling to exploit the vast reserves and perhaps cope with the rising demand. While some may have the required expertise and technology to complete the task, the environment varies with the rigs.

Despite some boasting of vast experience such activities, most are in their infancy stages of exploration. For such companies, dealing with extreme weather and drilling conditions strains their capacity putting the employees at risk.

Increased pressure

With most of the drilling happening at the depth beyond 2000 feet, the pressure at such depths remains a challenge. At such depths, the drilling equipment needs to be heavier than the ones used in shallow sea beds. The equipment may succumb to the intense pressure emanating from the mud or the control systems and cause massive spillage of the product. Other than spillages, such wells risk possible explosions that increase risk of fatal incidences.


When it comes to accidents occurring in the oil and gas sectors, fire is arguably one of the most dangerous incidents and the most feared by the offshore crew. Located far from the nearest ports and rescue services, the drilling crew have to deal with intense blowouts when they happen spontaneously. It explains why there is an astounded focus on ensuring the rigs are well equipped to detect and prevent such occurrences. Often, fires come from spillages, faulty electrical and mechanical systems and pressure from underground wells.

Unlike the conventional smoke detector, the modern fire detector operates on infrared rays with a CCTV enhancement ensuring accurate and quick identification. It allows the firefighters deal with the incidents and perhaps prevents further damage. When it comes to employee safety, they ought to adhere to the appropriate gear that includes Fire resistant clothing such as FR Rainwear, FR Safety Vests, FR Bib, Overalls, Coveralls, Hard Hats and Shirts among others.

Hydrocarbon releases

The bulk of the falls and slips are attributed to hydrocarbon releases. Between 2012 and 2013, hydrocarbons accounted for about 27 percent of the total reported incidences perhaps with numerous unreported. In these wells, most occur in liquid form and hence the reason they create slippery platforms that pose risks to the active teams. In gaseous form, they are a common cause of respiratory complications and often lead to explosions on ignition.


Since the rigs are located far away from the mainland, the working shifts are curved to suit the optimal performance of the teams without escalating the cost of operations. Often, the standard shifts last for 12 hours a day with most teams taking 7 to 14 days at the rig. Working in a single and tedious routine increases the risk of exhaustion that raises the possibility of incidents. Incidents such as falls, material falls and slips are common with exhausted drilling crew.

Limited communication network

Communication is a critical aspect of business operations. Despite the state of the art facilities installed in the rigs, the workers have no guarantee to an uninterrupted network. While it could work for a given time, technical hitches tend to slow down the activities and the functionality of the drilling machines that rely on similar platforms to relay signals. It gets worse when the staff cannot indicate incidences to the backup teams as they may not be able to contain incidences in real time.

Confined working stations

An offshore oil and gas rig offers limited working space by design. It starts with accessing the rigs where workers have to use helicopters and service vessels to working in confined spaces. On top of the space, inadequate oxygen, vapor build up, and poisonous gasses increases the risk of fatal incidents when the workers accidentally access some areas. Over 60% of all fatalities in confined spaces occur when others are rescuing colleagues from the events.

It’s imperative to test the air prior entering the air using the gas monitors and perhaps ensure the workers have the work boots, safety Glasses, ear protection, headlamps, and flashlights before going into dark edges. Respirators and cartridges come in handy when the atmosphere deteriorates suddenly, allowing the workers to escape the hazardous environment.

Michael Snyder
Michael Snyder