While the BSEE receives fatality reports from other sources, most of the time those fatalities fall under other jurisdictions. For instance, in 2019, the BSEE reported 6 fatalities at offshore oil and gas sites, but only 2 of them were under BSEE jurisdiction.

The narrow gaps between different federal agencies means fatalities and injuries are often underreported. Federal reporting tools like Fatalities in Oil & Gas Extraction Databases (FOG) provide the most accurate picture by compiling results from OSHA reports and Google news alerts, but even this is limited because OSHA has no jurisdiction in the Outer Continental Shelf—that’s BSEE territory.

Despite data showing half of offshore occupational fatalities occur in transport accidents, the BSEE doesn’t consider transport fatalities as part of its mandate. They leave those investigations to the US Coast Guard or the FAA, but neither the FAA nor the Coast Guard report passenger casualties based on occupation. For instance, the Coast Guard has a report for a single marine casualty in 2022 involving a cruise ship incident, but it makes no mention of whether it was a passenger or crew member.

As a result, there’s very little data about how often offshore oil and gas workers experience fatal risks; there’s even less data about injuries. As of June 2024, the BSEE still hasn’t released accident data for 2023.

But despite these obstacles, there are still notable trends over the last five years.

Increasing Numbers of Injuries & Lifting Accidents

Since 2018, the typical number of injuries reported by the BSEE was between 160 and 170. It reported 222 injuries in 2019, partially due to several multi-casualty incidents that year. But in 2022, it reported 199 injuries with almost no multi-casualty incidents. The injury rate simply spiked by roughly 17%.

A 2021 report from Energy News Network stated that offshore jobs have been in decline since 2011. Low staffing typically poses a higher risk of injury. However, the injury rate might be connected to another unusually high figure: BSEE data show a much higher number of lifting accidents in 2022 than in previous years.

In fact, lifting accidents have tripled since 2018, even after the BSEE established a task force in 2020 to cut the lift accident rate by 50%.

Lifting accidents are the cause of some of the most common hazards faced by offshore workers: getting pinned, crushed, or struck by swinging or falling objects. Being struck or caught in objects/equipment accounts for nearly two-thirds of all injuries in the oil and gas sector.

Using Technology to Avert Lifting Accidents

Most offshore lifting accidents occur during routine procedures; high-stakes lifting operations are typically safer by virtue of how much engineering and planning goes into them. It’s normal lift operations that have the highest rate of injury or incident.

There have been attempts at leveraging technology to reduce the number of lifting accidents, including a motion sensor camera that notifies crane operators when and where people are standing nearby. This technology operates from the premise that “operational conditions” on the platforms are the underlying cause of lift procedure accidents.

But is it operator exhaustion or boredom causing these issues? If that’s the case, why have lifting incidents increased dramatically in the last five years?

Staffing & Demographic Changes in Oil & Gas Extraction

Staffing represents the most dramatic shift in offshore platform operation. Low crude prices in 2014 led to lower staffing, and the pandemic exacerbated the situation. We’re now at a full decade with fewer laborers developing the skills and experience required to run a safe drilling operation. The longer staffing remains low, the worse the problem will get.

A secondary effect of low staffing is the aging out of valuable operation experience. Because the youngest and most inexperienced workers were laid off or furloughed first, today’s platform workforce is older than ever. A census report of the UK oil and gas industry revealed that only 12% of the workforce is under 30, and 45% are over 50. In the US, from 2014 to 2023, there was a 46% reduction in employment within the oil and gas extraction industry, with a 56% reduction in employment for ages 20–34.

While age doesn’t seem to affect a person’s ability to do shift work safely, low staffing levels make shift work far more exhausting. Exhaustion leads to serious mistakes, and with post-pandemic recruitment not keeping up with industry demands, it’s likely that reduced staffing is part of the reason lifting accidents are occurring at a higher frequency.

Read More: Petrosafe And Longitude Engineering Engaged For Egyptian Platform Assessment And Fitness Of Future Service

The Need for Reliable Accident & Injury Statistics

Further understanding how to solve the problem of high injury or fatality rates on offshore platforms requires better tracking and reporting. Between FOG, the BSEE, OSHA, and other federal agencies, there are still too many unanswered questions about safety conditions in one of the most dangerous industries in the world.

BSEE data show there have been fewer fatalities in the last couple of years, which is fortunate. But it’s not enough to be lucky—not when so much is on the line.

There’s a figure that the BSEE tracks called “musters,” which accounts for how many incidents necessitated mustering all crew for a possible evacuation. These figures include near-misses, but they never include false alarms. In 2022, there were 108 incidents that required mustering—a 32% spike above the previous 5-year average.

When there are this many near-misses without real change or data, a massive disaster is bound to happen. It’s just a matter of time.

 

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Issue 91 of Robban Assafina

(May/ June 2024)

 

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