The Strangest Challenges to Oil Rig Safety

It’s not taken seriously as much, but it wasn’t long ago that safety experts urged people to avoid using their cell phones while pumping gas. The reasoning went that the phone parts, either the batteries or the electronics, could spark and ignite the gas fumes.

However, the Petroleum Equipment Institute has not documented any incidents where a gas explosion was ever caused by a cell phone. At the same time, the amount of fumes at a gas station aren’t altogether that high. Could the risk of a fire be higher on an oil rig?

An Expert on Oil Rig Fires Speaks Out

According to Shawn Liddle, a technology consultant for fire safety systems designed for oil rigs, cell phones are the next frontier of rig safety issues. He thinks more workers are bringing phones with them to processing centers due to increased wifi capabilities on oil rigs.

He notes that “mobile phones are not intrinsically rated,” citing the possibility of causing a spark if a phone is dropped on accident. Though the Petroleum Equipment Institute might argue the case, the fact is that oil rig processing centers are far more likely to have volatile fumes at higher volumes. A spark that would be harmless at a gas station might prove to be deadly on an oil rig.

Shawn also notes that, in his opinion, spark potential in general is the greatest fire risk on an oil rig. Loose live wires and open electrical boxes could provide a potential ignition source for the fumes and gases, creating an incredible risk.

The Other Challenge to Rig Safety? Lack of Beds.

Liddle also mentions an industry-wide problem with lack of bedding. As a rig fire expert, Liddle travels from rig to rig inspecting and providing solutions to improve worker safety. However, the one thing keeping rigs from receiving such inspections are the lack of space for the technicians to sleep. Between increased demand for both output and renovations, rig managers will choose output.

This decade marks an era where regulators have recognized the prevalence of aging oil rig equipment. If lack of bedding and basic cell phone safety are all that’s required to ensure rig workers’ safety for years to come, then companies need to take immediate steps to fix these relatively simple problems. A related issue is the rise of smaller companies purchasing used rigs and drilling parts. As more companies begin buying up used equipment, companies need to ensure that refurbished equipment still meets safety standards.


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