It is our belief that oil rig deaths on US territory are a tragedy that has been very poorly discussed in US media.  We at the have decided that we need to throw our hat into the ring no matter how unpopular it is with mainstream media to discuss this subject.  The addiction to fossil fuels and the unwillingness of large segments of the population to discuss such matters probably contribute to the lack of media coverage.  Ignoring the matter cheapens the lives of those individuals who died while working on oil rigs.  This column will seek methods, practices, attitudes that contribute to the hazardous workplace that are oil rig platforms.


Using data supplied from website, this column analyzed 70 deaths that occurred on land-based oil rig platforms between 2009 and 2011.  We did not examine losses which occurred off the coast such as 2010 blowout situation which lead to 11 deaths.  The dates of accident analysis on land based oil rigs are from 11/4/2009 to 2/2/2011.  Here is a summary chart that shows the causes of those land based accidents:

Totals:  Struck By – 32 Total Struck-by objects
Falls – 16
Explosion – 10
Electrocution – 4
Miscellaneous – 2
Run-over/Rollover – 2
Unknown cause – 2
Asphyxiation – 2


Here is the summary of fines which OSHA levied on those companies that experienced deaths between 11/4/2009 and 2/2/2011:

$750 or less$750 – 999$1000 – 1499$1500-1999$2000-2999$3000-3999




10,000 or moreComments



An analysis of the fines chart shows that of the total 70 incidents (some of which resulted in multiple fines which is reflected in the total number of fines exceeding the total number of incident) the dollars costs tended to be less than or equal to $750 or greater than $5,000.    Only 19 of the total fines levied fell in the range of $750 to $3999 with another 16 fines occurring in the range of $4000 to $4999.  With 35 fines between $750 and $4999, the remainder of the fines was either very inexpensive or extremely significant with fines between $18,000 and one for $80,000.   It is the opinion of this author that the agency has an extreme reluctance to fine heavily with only five fines between $18,000 and $80,000 out of the 101 total fines levied for 70 incidents.  The $80,000 incident was the result of multiple deaths occurring on a rig platform in a single land based incident. 



The biggest percentage of industry fines during 2009 to 2011 fell under $5000

An analysis of the causes of these accidents presupposes the following occurred during the investigation:

  • The investigation was done immediately following the incident occurring
  • Management & OSHA correctly identified the principal sources of the incidents resulting in death. In two situations, OSHA lists the cause as “unknown” officially. In both situation, the employee was found dead with no witnesses.  Both situations had a fall from heights occurring with no one witnessing why the individual fell.  An autopsy on the individuals likely contributed to the understanding of the incident.  In the case of fire and/or explosion being listed as the cause, smoking in a flammable fumes area really was the cause of the explosion. 
  • Management & the OSHA representative doing the investigation were ready to allow investigating into the actual processes and procedures which the most prevalent contributors to the death were occurring.

Some of these deathly incidents occurred at the same companies but at different locations.  In the case of one billion dollar oil rig drilling company, they notched up four deaths at four different locations but had dozens of rig drilling locations in Texas, North Dakota, Pennsylvania and other states operating at the same time the deaths occurred.  The gross annual sales revenue when researched using public databases showed the low end company grossing $1.5 million and the high end $1 billion.



Reference Sources

  2. Accident Prevention Manual for Business & Industry, Administration & Programs, Chapter 12, PP.283 – 302
  3. A to Z databases,
  4. How to Promote the Business Value of EHS David Galt Senior Legal Editor Business and Legal Resources Old Saybrook, CT – Professional Safety Magazine.  2012 ADC proceedings.



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